Immune System's Memory Wiped by Measles

Measles Wipes Your Immune System's Memory, Increasing Vulnerability To Other Dangerous Diseases

For this research, the two teams looked at a group of unvaccinated people in the Netherlands to find out what measles does to the immune system. In August, four European countries lost their measles-free status when the disease made a comeback after being eradicated years ago.

An analysis of blood from 77 unvaccinated children before and after a measles outbreak swept through their Netherlands community revealed that the virus erases the body's memory of previous pathogens. The authors compared the children's blood samples collected before and after infection to see how their immune systems had fared. During a measles infection, people have fewer white blood cells, which protect the body against disease, and this is seen in the clinic as a low white blood cell count.

As Federico Martinón-Torres, head of the Pediatrics Service and director of Pediatric Clinical, Infectological and Translational Research at the University Clinical Hospital of Santiago de Compostela, says, "some research, such as this one, has pointed out that immunization strengthens the system in general immune".

Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who was not involved with the research, noted a 2015 paper on this subject, which showed that measles has a prolonged effect on host resistance that can last 2-3 years, and even can drive an increase in non-measles deaths in children.

Scientists have long theorized that the measles virus may cause "immune amnesia", but they never knew exactly how.

Better MMR vaccination could prevent at least 120,000 deaths directly attributed to measles, the authors of the more recent study write, but also "potentially hundreds of thousands of additional deaths attributable to lasting damage to the immune system".

The new findings highlighted the necessity of widespread vaccination. Nikolai Petrovsky, from Australia's Flinders University, suggests this research should entirely put to bed misinformation from certain sectors of the community that result in absurd "pox parties" where parents expose children to measles in the hopes of improving the child's immune response. They then sequenced antibody genes from 26 children before and for a month following measles infection.

"We show that measles directly causes the loss of protection to other infectious diseases". They found that the virus wipes out 11% to 73% of patients' protective antibodies, putting them at greater risk of viral and bacterial strains they were previously immune to. It sometimes leaves children with brain damage or hearing loss, and while deaths are rare in the US, measles killed 110,000 people globally in 2017. After infection, immature B-cell populations did not recover to their pre-infection levels, leaving the body with a smaller pool of options for fighting future infections of any kind.

"Measles essentially takes away their ability to efficiently protect themselves", said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard University and co-author of the new study, published today (Oct. 31) in the journal Science.

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The researchers say their studies show how crucial it is to be vaccinated for the measles as a child because the vaccine gives the body a ton of antibodies against the measles, without harming the antibodies used to protect the body against other illnesses.

"This study is a direct demonstration in humans of "immunological amnesia", where the immune system forgets how to respond to infections encountered before".

Additionally, measles seems to wipe out immune cells that "remember" encounters with specific bacteria and viruses, according to a separate, independent team that published the Science Immunology study.

The studies' findings also emphasize the importance of vaccines.

"If we slow or reverse public health gains when it comes to measles, this will have catastrophic consequences", he said.

Researchers then tested this "immunological amnesia" directly in ferrets, showing that infection with a measles-like virus reduced the level of flu antibodies in ferrets that had been previously vaccinated against flu.

"This study yet again dispels the unsafe myths perpetuated by homeopaths and other "natural" healers who claim that exposure of infants to natural infection is important to "strengthen" children's immune systems", writes endocrinologist Nikolai Petrovsky from Flinders University.

"One thing that is clear here is that the measles vaccine is a fantastic thing", Wesemann said. The measles vaccine is a particular target of the anti-vax movement. Measles, the contagious childhood disease that is once more on the rise globally, is more harmful than previously thought.

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