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  • Measles May Cause 'Immune Amnesia' And Put Kids At Risk Of Catching Other Infections

    Two new studies found the measles virus can wipe out protection provided by other vaccines.
    by Kitty Elicay .
Measles May Cause 'Immune Amnesia' And Put Kids At Risk Of Catching Other Infections
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that can cause life-threatening complications and even death. And if that is not enough to scare you, two new studies now suggest that the measles virus may inflict lasting harm your child’s immune system even after he has recovered from the disease.

    According to the studies, contracting measles can weaken the immune system already and leave a child vulnerable for several years to dangerous infections like flu and pneumonia. That’s because the measles virus kills the cells that make antibodies, which are responsible for fighting off infections.

    Researchers call it “immune amnesia.” When a child gets sick with colds, flu, stomach bugs, and other illnesses, their immune system uses its “memory” of these diseases, so it “knows” when to attack the germs that try to invade the body again. But the measles virus can erase that memory, leaving the child susceptible to catch the diseases all over again.

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    Even more alarming: If a child who has received vaccinations for other diseases gets infected with measles, the virus may wipe out the protection provided by those vaccines. In this case, researchers suggest revaccination can help restore the child’s immunity.

    Based on their findings, researchers stress the importance of vaccination. “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,” says Dr. Michael J. Mina of the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in an interview with The New York Times.

    Dr. Mina is the lead author of one of the new studies, which was published in the journal Science. The other study, led by Velislava N. Petrova from the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Britain, was published in Science Immunology.

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    The Harvard study took samples from 77 children in the Netherlands who had not been vaccinated against measles. They took blood samples to test their immunes systems before and after they caught measles during a 2013 outbreak.

    After comparing the before-and-after samples, researchers found that the measles virus wiped out 11% to 73% of a child’s antibodies against different viruses and bacteria. The biggest drops tended to occur in children with the severest cases of measles.

    The Wellcome study also tested samples from the same unvaccinated children from the Netherlands and found that memory cells that had formed to fight specific diseases went missing in the children’s immune systems after they had contracted the measles virus.

    Dr. Mina told The Times that the drops occurred because the virus killed “long-lived memory cells” in the bone marrow that could have otherwise lived for decades. These cells are “precious factories” that are responsible for creating antibodies.

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    Researchers say that those who survive measles gradually regain their previous immunity to other viruses and bacteria as they are “re-exposed” to them. But this process may take months to years, leaving individuals vulnerable to serious complications of those infections.

    The two findings emphasize why measles is a deadly disease — it has harmful effects beyond the disease. It also gives parents more reasons to protect their children with the measles vaccine.

    In response to these studies, the Department of Health is urging Filipino parents to have their children fully vaccinated, especially as the country is still recovering from the measles outbreak announced earlier this year.

    “It makes more sense to really have your children vaccinated because we now have this kind of problem,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told news outlets.

    According to the Childhood Immunization Schedule, the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine is given at two doses to preven the measles virus. The first dose given at 9 months. The second dose can be given between 12 to 15 months.

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    Can your child still get the measles vaccine at 2 years old or even later? Click here for things you should know.

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