The measles virus and the destruction of the immune system + what you don’t know about this deadly disease…

Pockets of unvaccinated people have left many children exposed to the most contagious and potentially deadly disease–the measles. Here in the United States, we are seeing outbreaks across over 21 states as of mid-March (2019), with no end in sight.

Copyright:(c) Katerynakon | Dreamstime.com
Copyright:(c) Katerynakon | Dreamstime.com

(If you don’t know what measles is, please go read this article about Measles now.)

I’m going to add some interesting facts that you may not know about the measles at the end of this article so stay tuned. First, a piece of information that may just be what you need to head out and grab your kid the vaccine… 

When you contract the measles virus it knocks out your immune system leaving you exposed again to ALL disease, even if you’ve had them before. Here’s the latest:

The measles vaccine became available in the US in 1963 and after that time the cases of deaths from the measles dropped drastically. This also correlated to a drop in childhood deaths from other infectious diseases.

This phenomenon was a mystery until the somewhat recent past when researchers discovered the link between catching the measles virus and how the immune system reacted to it. 

They found that when you catch the measles virus it destroys your immunity to other diseases that you were past exposed to. The measles kills white blood cells (T-lymphocytes)—ones that build up immune memory. 

Scientists are calling this phenomenon “immune amnesia.”

In research conducted on monkeys, scientists found that when given the measles virus they only have immunity to the measles and had lost all memory cells they had previously to other infections. After about a month these immune cells returned ready to make memory cells to new infection exposure, but the monkeys had to be re-exposed to all infections again.(2) The immune memory once formed to previous infections no longer existed. 

The effects in years before 1963 on measles contractors was so large that researchers believe through statistical calculation around half of all childhood infectious disease deaths were linked to this memory amnesia. 

According to research, children who have the measles virus at the age of one would not have protective immunity to infectious disease until they are 2-3 years of age.(4) This means that the re-set of the immune system memory cells may be a year to several years. Meaning the measles takes a toddler’s immune system back to that of a newborn.

A study that can be found in Science titled “Long-term measles-induced immunomodulation increases overall childhood infectious disease mortality,” explains the statistics of this phenomenon. 

Researchers used pre-and -post vaccine data for children between 1-9 years in Europe and 1-14 years in the US to compare measles incidence with infectious disease deaths. When they first did this they found a weak however statistically significant connection between the two.

Following that, they evaluated data on immune amnesia effects of the measles and found a large correlation between measles incidence and deaths from other infectious diseases. A significant average of 28 months of immune amnesia post measles infection was consistent across all age groups. 

When the vaccine was introduced researchers found a decrease in infectious disease deaths among those vaccinated with the measles vaccine. Meaning the measles vaccine not only provides protection against the measles virus but also aids in protection against other infectious diseases as well.

Currently this research group is tracking large groups of people over time for long-term data on the effects of measles on the immune system. It will be interesting to see what they find. 

So basically, if your child gets the measles, 28 months (and up to three years) from then he would be susceptible to death from an infectious disease (and vaccine-preventable disease) that he would have previously had memory against.

These children will have to be exposed to previously contracted germs all over again to form new immune memory. Only then will mortality rates from infectious disease of these children decrease.

This also applies to the memory cells created by vaccination. Memory cells are memory cells no matter how they are made. So with measles, they all will go. 

That means that parents who reject the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine but who have vaccinated their children with other vaccines will have to do so all over again should their child contract the measles.

Should a child not be re-vaccinated with previous vaccines after contracting the measles they will not be immune to vaccine-preventable diseases later in life. Should your child contract diseases such as chickenpox or polio later in life, the consequences could be very severe.

With these current US outbreaks, the prediction is that the death toll from infectious disease in these children will rise.

The good news? 

When you vaccinate your child, he isn’t exposed to the natural virus, but to a live attenuated virus that is unable to cause infection. This produces long-term memory and thus, the immune system is protected. 

Researchers have found no clinically significant immunosuppression due to the vaccine, and no significant data that MMR causes autism—a worry of many anti-vaccination advocates. 

This evidence shows how essential the MMR vaccine is. If you think skipping the MMR vaccine is the way to go, think again. Leaving your child exposed to measles leaves him exposed to all infectious disease. 

Facts that you need to know about the measles: 

  • The measles is VERY contagious. It has a 90% infection rate; that means that if an infected person coughs in a room of unvaccinated people, 9 out of 10 of them will contract the disease. 
  • The measles virus will kill or cause major brain damage in 3 out of 1000 people. 
  • The virus stays infectious on a surface for up to two hours. 
  • If a sick person touches an infected surface and touches their mouth or nose for up to an hour later, they could sill get sick. 
  • Most measles deaths are due to secondary infections such as pneumonia, diarrhea, and meningitis.
  • There is no cure for the measles.  
  • Measles is still rapid in many countries where children don’t have access to the vaccine. It is one of the leading causes of death among children. For example, in 2015 over 134,200 people died of the measles—367 deaths per day. 
  • We have the ability to completely eliminate the measles through vaccination and herd immunity, but we have to vaccinate our children. 

If you haven’t gotten your child (over one year) the MMR vaccine you can still do so at any time. Please note that you MUST get your child the MMR booster (second dose) for the vaccine to protect your child from the measles as much as possible. 

References:

1. MacKenzie, Debora. “Measles leaves you vulnerable to a host of deadly diseases.” Science. 7 May 2015.  Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa3662

2. “How measles hacks the body—and harms its victims for years.” Immunol Rev. July 2010. Immunol Rev. 2010 Jul; 236: 176–189. DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-065X.2010.00925.x

3. Griffin, Diane E. “Measles virus-induced suppression of immune responses”Immunological reviews vol. 236 (2010): 176-89.

4. B. Rose Huber, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “Long-term measles-induced immunomodulation increases overall childhood infectious disease mortality.” Science. 7 May 2015.