Being inflicted with measles could have a devastating impression on the body’s immune process such that it could become more difficult to battle other infections for several years, a pair of studies show.


Measles is a very contagious respiratory infection that causes a total-body skin rash and flu-like symptoms in a manner that could eventually lead to pneumonia in the lungs, swelling in the brain, other long-term disabilities, and even death.

The virus, according to the pair of related studies published in Science and Science Immunology, could also cause “immune amnesia,” a condition where the body “forgets” how to fight bugs it once knew how to tackle.

The new research was conducted by groups of scientists in the United States, United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.


The scientists had conducted a detailed analysis of unvaccinated children in an orthodox protestant community situated in the Netherlands by testing children’s blood samples taken before and after a 2013 outbreak.

After examining their antibodies, they found that the virus destroys B lymphocytes, the cells that remember pathogens that the immune system has fought before for faster antibody production in the future.

Another team of researchers at the Harvard Medical School looked at blood samples from 77 of the children using a tool that allowed them to build up a detailed picture of the children’s immune system before and after a measles infection.


In the findings, they discovered that the patients lost 20 percent of their repertoire of antibodies on average while one of the children reported a 73 percent loss on the types of antibodies they could produce.

“Every time we see a pathogen, our immune system recognizes this it, builds immunity to it, and then stores it in the form of immune memory. The measles virus removes immune memory cells that are created,” Velislava Petrova, a postdoctoral fellow in immunogenetics at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK and first author of the report published in Science Immunology.

“They also return the immune system back to a baby-like state where they have limited ability to respond to new pathogens. Our immune cells recover back to normal numbers after getting measles but they are no longer the same memory cells.

“Vaccination for measles is really important not only to protect us from the disease itself but also to protect us from other diseases.”


“Measles makes our immune system more baby-like. Babies are more vulnerable to infections because their immune system is still maturing. That’s what measles does.”

According to the researcher, the findings make the need for measles vaccination even more urgent, because it protects children against much more than measles.

“When parents say no to getting a measles vaccine, you’re not just taking a risk of your kid getting measles, you’re causing them to lose this amazing resource of defenses they’ve built up over the years before measles, and that puts them at risk of catching other infections,” said Michael Mina of the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who is the lead author of one of the new studies.

“You’ve got to watch your kid’s back for a few more years.”


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