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Getting The Measles Is A Double Whammy

Infectious Disease: Getting the measles leaves the immune system vulnerable to other diseases; study reinforces the importance of vaccination

by Stephen K. Ritter
May 11, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 19

The measles doesn’t just make you sick. The lingering effects of the disease compromise the immune system for several years, leaving the body open to greater risk of contracting and dying from other infectious diseases, according to a study (Science 2015, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa3662). The finding helps explain why the introduction of measles vaccines has prevented many more deaths in the countries studied than researchers had expected. Michael J. Mina and Bryan T. Grenfell of Princeton University and coworkers analyzed data before and after measles vaccination programs in the U.S., U.K., and Denmark over the past 60 years. Their epidemiologic analysis provides evidence that by depleting B and T lymphocytes measles induces “immune amnesia” so that the body forgets how to fight off microbial invaders. Scientists previously knew that getting the measles could knock down the immune system for weeks or months after infection. But the new study reveals that measles-induced immune effects may last for two to three years. The researchers say their results reinforce the importance of getting the measles vaccine to prevent the disease and to keep the immune system’s memory intact as an extra shield of protection against nonmeasles infections.


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