Studies find: Measles wipes out immunity to other contagious diseases.
Researchers say the findings have implications for public health.
By Kelly Burke
October 31 2019
The known dangers associated with measles have escalated overnight, with two separate studies finding the highly contagious disease has the power to wipe out acquired immunity to other infections.
Researchers say the findings have implications for public health globally because declining vaccination rates have led to more measles outbreaks, which in turn may open the window for other dangerous diseases such as flu, diphtheria and tuberculosis, to reappear.
The studies both concluded that measles has the ability to "reset" the human immune system back to the immature state of a baby's, with only limited ability to fight off new infections.
One of the studies' leaders said it was a clear case of 'immunological amnesia' in humans, where the immune system forgets how to respond to infections encountered before.
Stephen Elledge, a geneticist and researcher at the U.S. Howard Hughes Medical Institute who co-led the second study, said the results constituted "really strong evidence that the measles virus is actually destroying the immune system".
The studies employed two teams to study a group of unvaccinated people in the Netherlands.
In one study, they sequenced antibody genes from 26 children, before and then 40 to 50 days after measles infection, and found that specific antibodies that had been built up against other diseases had disappeared from the children's blood.
Results from the second study found that measles infection destroyed between 11 per cent and 73 per cent of the children's protective antibodies - the blood proteins that "remember" past encounters with viruses and help the body avoid repeat infections.
The result was that the children were left vulnerable to infections they had previously been immune to.
Worst outbreak in decades
Australia is currently in the throes of the second-worst outbreak of measles in almost two decades, with 235 confirmed cases this year.
One man from New Zealand is believed to have infected at least 20 people in Perth in recent weeks.
Kiwis are experiencing their worst measles outbreak since 1938, with more than 1,500 cases recorded so far this year.
Researchers in the two studies say their findings help to explain why children often catch other infectious diseases after having measles, and underscore the dangers of growing resistance to childhood vaccination in some countries.
Two doses of the measles vaccination are required to provide full immunity.
Symptoms of the virus include coughing, rashes and fever, and infection can lead to potentially fatal complications including pneumonia and an inflammation of the brain known as encephalitis.