Measles may compromise immune systems for three years
Health professionals have known for several years that measles weakens immune systems, but they previously believed that this weakness only lasted a few months. This study shows children who previously had measles are at a greater susceptibility to other serious illnesses for much longer.
"We already knew that measles attacks immune memory, and that it was immunosuppressive for a short amount of time. But this paper suggests that immune suppression lasts much longer than previously suspected," C. Jessica Metcalf, co-author and assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and public affairs at Princeton, said. "In other words, if you get measles, three years down the road, you could die from something that you would not die from had you not been infected with measles."
This continued weakness in the immune system is called “immune amnesia” because important memory cells are partially eliminated when they try to protect the body from measles.
"Our findings suggest that measles vaccines have benefits that extend beyond just protecting against measles itself," Michael Mina, lead author and a student at Emory University School of Medicine who worked on the study as a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton, said. "It is one of the most cost-effective interventions for global health."
Further details are available in the journal Science.