Measles- Body’s Immune Memory

By: Israh Ghobbar


Measles is a childhood infection caused by a virus, but can be prevented by an MMR vaccine that treats measles, mumps, and rubella. Although mortality rates have been falling worldwide as more children receive the vaccine, the disease is killing an estimated 110,000 a year which is more than the 73,400 killed in 2015. Several countries including the United Kingdom, Greece, and Brazil have lost their elimination status due to problems with vaccine access and refusal. Most cases are in developing countries in Africa and Asia with more than 20 million people infected a year -- most of them being children.


Measles is a highly contagious illness caused when someone with measles coughs, sneezes or talks, infected droplets spray into the air, where they can be inhaled. Typical symptoms of measles include fever up to 40°C or 41°C, dry cough, runny nose, sore throat, inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis), Koplik’s spots, and skin rashes.


The virus removes an average 40 percent of the antibodies that protect against other viral and bacterial infections that a person was previously immune to including influenza and bacteria that cause pneumonia. There are two theories as to how measles causes reduction in immunity, including not getting the vaccine means there is the degrading of the immune system. Others have hypothesized that the virus can impair the body’s immune memory, causing “immune amnesia”. This theory explains why the majority of deaths and health complications are caused by infections people acquire after measles. If potent defenses known as neutralizing antibodies are destroyed, protection against more serious diseases decreases further. This means the immune system will need to “relearn” how to protect the body after measles.


The MMR vaccine is useful in this circumstance as it not only protects the body from measles, but it also protects the body from other infections in the long-run. By protecting against measles infection, the vaccine prevents the body from losing its immune memory and preserves its resistance against other diseases.

However, many scientists debate whether this hypothesis is correct. Other questions including how immune amnesia occurs are being raised. People who have recovered from measles gradually regain their previous immunity to viruses and bacteria as they are re-exposed to them; however, this process can take months or years and increases the chances of contracting more serious diseases, meaning people would remain vulnerable to these infections. Because measles affects malnourished children more, the degree of immune amnesia and its effects are more severe in less healthy populations.

In conclusion, measles creates a prolonged danger to victims due to the erasure of immune memory. Researchers recommend mitigating long term health problems from immune amnesia and increased susceptibility to diseases in patients recovering from measles with a round of booster vaccinations of all previous vaccinations. Other suggestions include making sure vaccines are mandatory for children in public schools.


Sources:

https://www.vox.com/2019/11/1/20943217/measles-outbreak-2019-vaccine

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191031204630.htm

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03324-7

Image: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-50251259

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The Scientific Teen 2020.