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Measles May Weaken Immune System for Up to 3 Years, Study Contends

May 8, 2015   ·   0 Comments


Measles May Weaken Immune System for Up to 3 Years

Findings highlight importance of measles vaccine for preventing damaging infection, doctors say

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, May 7, 2015 (HealthDay News) — New research suggests that children who survive a measles infection remain vulnerable to other potentially deadly infections for as long as two or three years after the measles infection.

The finding is yet another reason for children to get vaccinated against measles, the researchers said.

A measles infection appears to wipe out the memory cells of a person’s immune system, which the body uses to recall how to fight off all the bad bugs encountered day-to-day, said study lead author Michael Mina, a postdoctoral infectious disease researcher at Princeton University.

Without that immune memory, children post-measles are at greater risk of contracting pneumonia, encephalitis and other infectious diseases. The measles even seems to wipe out immunity children gain from vaccines against other infectious diseases, Mina said.

However, due to the design of the study, the researchers could only find a link between measles infection and an increased risk of other infectious diseases. The study wasn’t able to prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

Still, Mina said it appears that after a measles infection, “[children] have to spend the next few years of their lives rebuilding their immune systems, and during that time they are at the mercy of other illnesses.”

These findings help explain why the introduction of measles vaccines has helped prevent larger numbers of deaths than can be attributed to measles alone, Mina said.

“It’s just one more level of evidence to show how important measles vaccination has been, in terms of global health,” he said. “No other public health intervention since piped water that has led to such reductions in childhood mortality.”

Results of the study were published in the May 8 issue of the journal Science.

An outbreak of measles this year in the United States sickened 147 people, including 131 in California. The outbreak began at two Disney theme parks in southern California, and was likely caused by unvaccinated individuals, health officials said.

Measles vaccination has been shown to reduce the childhood death rate in resource-poor countries by 30 percent to 50 percent, and by up to 90 percent in the most impoverished nations, researchers said in background information in the study.

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