Measles Virus Causes Immune System ‘Amnesia’

The measles virus “erases” parts of the immune system’s memory, leaving infected people vulnerable to pathogens such as influenza, herpes and pneumonic bacteria, according to two new studies published Monday in the journal science and its subjournal.


Researchers at harvard medical school and the university of Rotterdam medical center in the Netherlands analyzed blood samples from 77 unvaccinated Dutch children before and after they contracted measles, according to a study published in the journal science. The results showed that measles virology removed 11 to 73 percent of the protective antibodies in these children. These antibodies could have “memorized” previously infected pathogens to prevent the body from becoming infected again.

The researchers say the measles virus is more harmful than previously recognized, suggesting greater benefits from vaccinating against the disease.

A separate study in the journal science immunology reached similar conclusions. Researchers from Britain and the Netherlands have found that the measles virus “resets” the body’s immune system to a foetal immaturity.
Velieslava petrova, of the wellcome trust sanger institute in Britain, who worked on the study, said the study was the first to show the body’s “immune amnesia”, in which the measles virus leaves people vulnerable to other infectious diseases.

Measles is a viral infection that affects most children, with symptoms including fever, inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, cough and conjunctivitis. There is no specific medicine, and the most effective way to prevent measles is vaccination.


In recent years, measles has made a comeback in countries that had previously declared its elimination, even in high-income countries. This is mainly due to the rise of anti-vaccine campaigns in some western countries, with some anti-vaccine activists spreading false information about the triple vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella. The world health organization calls this “vaccine hesitation” when parents choose not to get vaccinated when they can because of a misunderstanding of the vaccine.