Letting Your Kid Get Measles Can Set Their Immune System Back Years

We already know that getting the measles is rough on a child -- the rash is uncomfortable, the fever is uncomfortable, the cough is uncomfortable, and it kills 10 percent of its victims. But now to make matters worse, new research shows that measles messes with your immune system for years after you recover ... instead of just weeks like we previously thought.


The lead author of the study, Michael Mina, who is studying medicine at Emory University, worked on the research as a postdoctoral biology student at Princeton. He and his team found that measles cause "immune-amnesia," which means that measles prompts your immune system to forget everything it previously learned about fighting off diseases.

That makes children who've had the measles more susceptible to other diseases and infections, and makes it harder for them to fight that stuff off once it lodges in their body.

But we knew about this amnesia already. We just thought that it lasted a couple weeks or maybe months after measles symptoms subsided. 

In reality, it's way worse than we thought -- this new study published in the journal Science proves that this measles "hangover" actually lasts for two or three years. Years!

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The researchers figured this all out by mining historical data from England, Wales, the U.S., and Denmark -- which they chose because of their generally low disease rates that made measles easier to separate and study.

In every country and age group they looked at, the researchers noticed a higher death rate in non-measles diseases that followed cases of measles by about 28 months. On a broader scale, the more cases of measles that hit a population, the more deaths there were from infectious diseases.

According to the study's abstract, the researchers concluded "Vaccination thus does more than safeguard children against measles; it also stops other infections taking advantage of measles-induced immune damage. "

To get more specific data, the study would have to be brought back into the lab to study immune cells, but that could still be a couple years out. For now, it'll have to be enough to know that even when the measles symptoms subside, it could still be a long while until the patient is 100 percent okay again.

Does this research change how you feel about the measles vaccine?


Image via NatUlrich/shutterstock

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