A single incidence of measles infection could leave our immune system a lot weaker than we can imagine. While the immune system is supposed to protect us by developing antibodies against various threats, a single measles virus infection could wipe out many of these antibodies, causing immune amnesia and leaving us weaker than before.
A new study suggests that measles can wipe out between 11 to 73 percent of the antibodies present. This means it could expose a person to threats such as pneumonia, herpesvirus, influenza, and skin infections, which they were previously protected against. Conducted by an international team of researchers led by investigators at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the new study was published in the journal Science.
“Imagine that your immunity against pathogens is like carrying around a book of photographs of criminals, and someone punched a bunch of holes in it,” said the study’s first author, Michael Mina, who was a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Stephen Elledge at HMS and Brigham and Women’s at the time of the study and is now an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard Chan School. “It would then be much harder to recognize that criminal if you saw them, especially if the holes are punched over important features for recognition, like the eyes or mouth.”
Some previous research suggests that measles vaccination provides dual benefits. Not only does it protect against measles but it also appears to protect from other infections over the long term. According to another theory, it protects against measles and thus offers long-term protection by protecting the immune system’s memory.
The study brings to light the immune system damage or immune amnesia caused by a measles virus infection while also highlighting the multiple benefits of being vaccinated for measles.