Two studies published yesterday in Science and Science Immunology illustrate how the measles virus causes long-term damage to the immune system, creating a form of immune amnesia that can leave children at an increased risk of illness from other diseases for years.

Lead authors of the studies say the findings bring a new level of urgency in the fight against the resurgence of measles infections seen in the United States and other countries where elimination of the virus was once a given.

“Our study suggests that, more than a rash or a high fever, a measles infection is playing Russian roulette with a child’s immune system,” said Michael Mina, MD, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Mina was the lead author on the Science study, which compared the immune systems of children who had acquired measles infections with those who had not because of routine vaccination with the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Clinicians and epidemiologists have long known that measles infection increases childhood morbidity and mortality for as long as 5 years after illness, and measles in the pre-vaccination era was likely associated with at least half of all childhood deaths from infectious diseases. But Mina’s is the first study to offer biological evidence of this phenomena.

Credit: iStock, Dr_Microbe

Infection and antibody loss

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