Using blood samples from unvaccinated children during a measles outbreak in the Netherlands in 2013, researchers found that measles infection erased the body's previously
acquired immune memory against other pathogens.
Blood antibodies were measured in 77 unvaccinated children before and 2 months after measles infection with a tool called VirScan which detects the presence of antiviral and antibacterial antibodies. The results were also compared to measurements in 115 uninfected children and adults.
Measles infection eliminated 11-73% of the children's antibodies against different viral and bacterial strains acquired from previous exposure, a phenomenon referred by authors as 'immune amnesia'. This effect was not observed in vaccinated children. Children recovered these antibodies after they were naturally re-exposured to the pathogens. The experiment was also repeated in macaque monkeys which showed that 40-60% of each monkey's preexisting antibodies were lost and persisted at least 5 months after measles infection.
Why it matters: Measles infection not only results in acute illness but may also damage the immune system, affecting the body's ability to fight against other pathogens. The study reinforces the importance of measles vaccination which may be of greater benefit than was previously known, particularly in those who may have severe immune deficiencies.
Source: Science Magazine