Researchers have been aware for a while now on the temporary effects that the measles virus has on weakening a child’s immune system, however a new study published in the journal Science reveals that a lowered immune system after the measles can actually last longer than expected. While it has been the understanding in the past that the short-term effect on the immune system from the virus lasts approximately one to two months; new research suggests the attack on a child’s immune memory can last up to three years; exposing kids to a number of other more harmful infections and deadly diseases.
There has been a recent spotlight on the measles (and the debate on vaccinations) recently, since the outbreak that stemmed from Disneyland in December 2014. While in 2000, the U.S. declared the virus had been eliminated, due to the Disney episode, 644 cases of the measles were reported last year; and there have been 169 cases noted in 2015 thus far. The research team adds that this new evidence within the study really showcases just how vital it is to ensure young kids receive a measles vaccine moving forward.
Michael Mina was featured in Medical News Today as the Lead Study Author, who is a former postdoctoral researcher at Princeton, now a student at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia that was inspired to dive into these studies after he came across a connection to the decrease in immune memory cells as it relates to measles. That research indicated that the virus targets T cells, also referred to as “T lymphocytes”, which are type of blood cell located in an individual’s immune system that protects the body from infections, by recalling foreign bodies that have come through already. The research also provided evidence that while the T lymphocytes do come back in approximately four to five weeks, they only in turn try to fight off the measles; and do no look for any other illness to ward off.
When it came to their research, Mina and his team wanted to find out the length of time it takes for one’s immunity to recover fully after the measles, and how long it takes for it to recognize other illnesses. As such, the team analyzed the population data from the United States, Wales, Denmark, and England; looking at measles to death rate figures, as it related to children aged 12 months to nine years old (amongst the European countries); and kids 12 months to 14 years of age in the U.S. during pre- and post-vaccination times. After differing in-depth analysis, researchers found a link within the measles virus, and deaths resulting in other illness, following a time period of just a little over two years. The results of the study were the same across the board when it came to countries, ages, and vaccination eras.
The team notes that evidence from this study shows the measles vaccine can guard a child against immune memory cell loss that comes with the virus, warding off potentially fatal illnesses. It can also come back to haunt the patient in some other form of illness up to three years later.