The generally accepted concept of measles
Most people assume measles is simply a contagious infectious condition that causes unsightly red rashes over the body. However, recent findings have revealed the more serious silent effects of the measles that has not been previously associated with it.
Unknown effects of measles on the immune system
The measles initially begins with a flu-like prodrome, with classic flu symptoms including fever, runny nose, cough, and watery eyes. After 3 to 5 days of the onset of symptoms, red rashes start to appear on the face and gradually spread to the rest of the body. Apart from the rashes and uncomfortable symptoms, about 8-10 % of measles patient suffer from complications such as pneumonia and ear infection. These complications are a result of the immunosuppression post measles infection.
Although most people with measles recover with a good prognosis, certain populations are more susceptible to the complications of measles. These complications although uncommon can have fatal consequences.
Research reveals the effect of measles on adaptive immunity
According to studies conducted on lab animals, the measles has the potential to suppress the immune system by erasing the adaptive immunity that we gain after years of exposure to infectious organisms. Normally, the immune system retains a memory of an infection, which aids it to fight the organism if it re-infects the body. Without adaptive immunity’s memory, the human body becomes highly susceptible when exposed to foreign microorganisms.
Just like with an HIV infection measles can wipe the immune system’s adaptive memory for many months to years making the patient susceptible to various deadly infections Therefore, assuming measles is simply a benign condition is unwise considering its deadly aftereffects.
Recent research has revealed the underlying physiology regarding the effect of the measles on the immune system. The research observed the tissue in children and animals before and after the infection to analyze which immune cells were most affected by the measles infection.
Not only will these findings help obtain a more comprehensive idea of the immunosuppressive actions of measles infection, but it also has the potential to aid the development of a new vaccine that provides umbrella protection against measles and a wide range of microorganisms.
“Wherever you introduce measles vaccination, you always reduce childhood mortality. Always,” stated virologist Rik de Swart of Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands. Researchers believe the immune system’s shield developed by the measles vaccine may create a globular nature of protections against many foreign pathogens.
De swart seized an opportunity in 2013 to study the effects of measles on the immune system during an outbreak of the virus in children who are part of the Dutch Bible Belt, an insular community of Orthodox Protestants in the Netherlands. The orthodox parents were against the concept of vaccination and thus most children were unvaccinated.
The researchers collected blood samples from all unvaccinated children who had not yet had a measles infection. Then they waited for the next outbreak to occur, which occurred soon enough. They were able to collect samples from 77 children affected by the measles outbreak.
The virus attacked the memory B and T cells which are the chief immune cells responsible for adaptive immunity. After the infection subsided, the number of memory cells reduced drastically resulting in immune amnesia in the children.
They compared the number of prescriptions obtained for an infectious condition by measles-infected children and vaccinated children. The results were astonishing with more than 15% difference in prescription rates found between the two groups. The measles-infected children were prescribed antibiotics 15% – 24% more frequently in the years following the measles infection.
Although most children recover well from the measles infection, the risks of a fatal outcome are not something that can be simply looked over. A simple measles vaccination can not only save lives, but it can also significantly reduce childhood morbidity rates.