Mass Spectrometry & Spectroscopy

  • Does Measles Cause 'Immune Amnesia'?

Does Measles Cause 'Immune Amnesia'?

Nov 25 2019 Read 1510 Times

In a pair of breakthrough studies pioneered by the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK and Harvard University in the US, a team of researchers is warning that measles can trigger resistance known as 'immune amnesia'. The research was inspired by population data suggesting that following a measles outbreak, mortality rates from other pathogens increase. The researchers decided to investigate the trend more closely, using children from an unvaccinated Orthodox Protestant community in the Netherlands as a human case study.

Measles is one of the most contagious human pathogens on the planet, spread by a virus that's replicated in the nose and throat. When an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes the virus is spread via small, airborne droplets. Measles can often have fatal consequences, including brain inflammation and pneumonia.

Measles forces immune system to "forget" resistance

The studies analysed blood from unvaccinated Dutch children who contracted the measles virus. The results were alarming and suggest that contracting the virus can have a negative impact on the immune system for months, or in some cases, years. The researchers warn the aggressive virus can cause the immune system to "forget" resistance it has previously developed to other pathogens and as a result, leave the body vulnerable to infections it could have previously fought off.

The researchers refer to the concept as "immune amnesia" and warn that immunising children against measles can not only increase their chances of contracting the virus, but also weaken their immune systems in the long term. The team started by analysing blood samples from 77 children before and after contracting measles. They found that after fighting off the virus, children lost around 20% of their built-up antibody resistance. In some cases, the loss was as high as 70%.

Studies highlight the importance of global vaccination

Following the recent measles outbreak in Samoa that has left more than 20 children dead, as well as findings that suggest a sharp increase of 30% in global cases of measles from 2017 to 2018, the study highlights the importance of vaccination on an international scale.

"If we allow [measles] outbreaks to happen, we are knowingly creating pockets of people who are susceptible to other diseases as well," warns Velislava Petrova, leader of the British study conducted at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton.

"These two studies provide further strong evidence for the highly immunosuppressive effects of measles infection and the power of measles vaccination to counter it," adds Bryan Grenfell, a population biologist at Princeton University.

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