Reporting Oct. 31 in Science, the researchers show that the measles virus wipes out 11 percent to 73 percent of the different antibodies that protect against viral and bacterial strains a person was previously immune to-anything from influenza to herpesvirus to bacteria that cause pneumonia and skin infections.
Doctors have long known that people temporarily experience weakened immunity after measles.
Professor Colin Russell, from the Amsterdam University, acknowledged: "For the predominant time we sight that measles resets the immune system and it turns into more toddler-love, limiting how successfully it might per chance per chance per chance retort to new infections". They used blood samples from 77 children who had not been vaccinated, and the virus got in.
When Kula examined an initial set of these samples, he found a striking drop in antibodies from other pathogens in the measles-infected children that "clearly suggested a direct effect on the immune system", the authors said. 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.
"The virus is much more deleterious than we realized, which means the vaccine is that much more valuable", said study coauthor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Stephen Elledge. "We now understand the mechanism is a prolonged danger due to erasure of the immune memory, demonstrating that the measles vaccine is of even greater benefit than we knew".
They said this in turn could cause an increase in cases of other unsafe infections such as flu, diphtheria or tuberculosis, even in people who were previously immune. Measles infection erases big sections of the text, an effect sometimes called immune amnesia. "The measles virus is like an accident for your immune system".
Before the children contracted measles, their blood contained antibodies to many common pathogens. They also saw no loss of antibodies in children after they received a vaccination against measles.
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The researchers sequenced antibody genes from 26 children both before and 40-50 days after their measles infection. "This shows that measles could reverse the effects of vaccination against other infectious diseases". All children lost a large part of their so-called memory cells - the immune cells that the body created after an infection and that are ready to fight the same infection if it strikes again.
But the rise of anti-vaccination campaigns, non-vaccinating religious communities and other factors have led to outbreaks causing tens of thousands infections in Congo, Madagascar, the Philippines, Sudan, Thailand and Ukraine, among other countries, according to WHO.
Researchers from the Harvard Medical School, who led the Science study, examined blood samples from children before and after getting measles. But two months after recovering from measles, the children had lost on average 20 percent of their usual antibody mix.
Previous evidence for immune amnesia has been based on mathematical models and population-level studies according to Dr. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the primary author of the study released this week in Science.
The study was published simultaneously with a paper by a separate team in Science Immunology that reached complementary conclusions by measuring changes in B cells caused by the measles virus. And if these are the consequences of measles in a high-income nation where death from the virus is rare, it's even more important this research be conducted in places where the disease is commonplace, he says.
The studies' findings also emphasize the importance of vaccines. "Hopefully these families will be willing to continue to be involved with the researchers", he says.
Dr Nikki Turner, from the Immunisation Advisory Centre, said the impacts of measles vaccination went "way beyond just measles protection".
"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. In other words, while measles survivors struggle to defend themselves against other pathogens, their bodies can fend off a repeat attack by the measles virus itself.