A new study on measles reveals a scary side effect: “immune-system amnesia”

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Measles vaccine rates are dropping worldwide, with measles cases tripling between 2018 and 2019. Getty Images/Image Source

(Julia Belluz/ Vox) — As measles cases soar worldwide, scientists have discovered yet another danger of the disease: the measles virus can wipe out the immune system, making people more susceptible to other illnesses later. The research sheds new light on a virus that’s infected humans for centuries.

The phenomenon is called “immune amnesia,” and a new study — published in Science — documented how it works.

The measles virus appears to erase the body’s immune memory, destroying an average of 40 of the antibodies against other viruses and bacteria subjects in the study built up before the measles virus hit. This means people who get measles are more susceptible to other illnesses — pneumonia, flu, and skin infections — after an encounter with the virus, and that immune suppression can last for years.

This new side effect is an addition to all of the other well-known symptoms of measles, such as rash, cough, fever, and malaise. Measles can also lead to serious complications — pneumonia, brain swelling — and even death. In 2017, measles killed 110,000 people around the world and infected 6.7 million. (…)

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