Measles and Immune Amnesia

Studies published in Science Immunology found that the highly contagious and potentially fatal measles virus can cause immune amnesia. Immune amnesia results in removing antibodies that had protected patients from other illnesses. The measles virus wipes out 11-73% of patients’ protective antibodies putting them at risk of viral and bacterial strains they were previously immune to.

The biggest takeaway of this study is that measles is really much more detrimental to the immune system and overall childhood health than previously recognized,” Michael Mina, MD, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and one of the study’s lead authors. “It not only destroys overall immune function for a few weeks as children recover from the measles virus – something that has been known for a long time – but this study shows that it also prevents children’s ability to defend against pathogens they should have been equipped to deal with over the long term,” he says. “This study really drives home the real importance of measles vaccination.”

Measles is easily preventable. One vaccine dose is 93% effective in preventing the disease. The two doses that are recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) make the vaccine 97% effective.

In light of these new studies, protecting your children from vaccine-preventable illnesses like measles is even more important to protect their health. Vulnerable people count on herd immunity as well to reduce their risk of acquiring diseases from others in their communities. Herd immunity is attained when a sufficient percentage of a population is immune to an infectious disease either through vaccination and/or previous exposure to that illness. Vulnerable people include young children, senior citizens, pregnant women, and immune-compromised individuals.

Shelby County Public Health encourages all residents to follow the ACIP immunization recommendations for adults and children including the measles vaccine. For more information about immunizations or the diseases they prevent, please contact your health care provider or go to https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/acip/index.html