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Fri Nov 1, 2019, 06:57 AM

Measles Virus May Wipe Out Immune Protection For Other Diseases

The research begins to explain something surprising that happened when the measles vaccine was introduced in the U.S. in the 1960s. Rates of childhood deaths from other diseases fell precipitously. The same thing happened as the vaccine was introduced around the world.

But what is it about the measles vaccine that seems to provide protection from more than just measles? The new studies published this week in the journals Science and Science Immunology provide substance to what has been the leading theory: Measles can damage the immune system by erasing the body's memory of previously encountered antigens.

One of the key features of our immune system is that it keeps track of the infectious agents we've encountered and uses that memory to prevent reinfection. But after someone gets the measles, their immune system appears to forget some of what it has encountered, studies suggest. It's an effect researchers refer to as "immune amnesia."

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 new studies are the first to show "any of the real biology that helps explain the population-level effects," he says.


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