BookmarkBookmarkTick

Measles Virus Completely Wipes Out Your Immune System, Studies Find

"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.”
ByNehal Aggarwal
Associate Editor
Published
November 5, 2019
sad teddy bear looking out rainy window
Image: Kidsada Manchinda / Getty Images

Every parent wants to keep their child as healthy as possible, but there can be a lot of questions around how to best do so with all the misinformation out there. Now, two recent studies are emphasizing the importance of the measles vaccine through their findings on how exactly the virus impacts the immune system.

According to the studies published in the journals Science and Science Immunology, the measles virus actually has the power to erase the memory of the immune system, leaving us vulnerable to diseases we may have been previously protected against.

In one of the studies, researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS) looked at blood samples from 77 kids before and two months after naturally getting the measles virus. They found that measles eliminated 11 to 73 percent of the antibodies present in individuals before infection, leaving them exposed to illnesses they had built an immunity to—and that included protection from other vaccinations. According to these findings, the researchers believe that measles may also cause an increase in other illnesses.

“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,” Michael Mina, one of the study’s primary authors, said in an HMS press release. “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.”

That’s not to say kids who recover from measles never regain the immunity they lost—they do, but only after reexposure to the illnesses they were protected against before, the study states.

“The threat measles poses to people is much greater than we previously imagined,” Stephen Elledge, senior author of the study and professor of genetics and medicine at HMS said in the release. “We now understand the mechanism is a prolonged danger due to erasure of the immune memory, demonstrating that the measles vaccine is of even greater benefit than we knew.”

The study believes the rise in measles is due to reduced vaccination, reporting that worldwide cases of measles have increased by almost 300 percent since 2018. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the two-dose measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is safe and is 97 percent effective at preventing a measles infection.

With all the misinformation around vaccines out there, it can be hard for parents to cut through the noise. Speak with your healthcare provider and ask any questions you may have around keeping up to date on vaccines.

Tool: Vaccine Tracker

profile picture of The Bump Editors
The Bump Editors
nervous woman stands by window

Study Shows Many Parents Still Don’t Trust Routine Childhood Vaccines

profile picture of Nehal Aggarwal
Nehal Aggarwal
Associate Editor
Published
06/29/2020
mom holding her baby after it had a vaccine

New Technique Makes Vaccines Safe in Warmer Temperatures, Study Finds

profile picture of Nehal Aggarwal
Nehal Aggarwal
Associate Editor
Published
06/09/2020
city of boston historic buildings

These Are the Best and Worst States for Vaccination Rates, Report Says

profile picture of Nehal Aggarwal
Nehal Aggarwal
Associate Editor
Published
01/17/2020
phone screen that shows mock up of vaccine pop up

Facebook and Instagram Debut New Strategy to Combat Vaccine Myths

profile picture of Laurie Ulster
Laurie Ulster
Contributing Writer
Published
09/05/2019
two women having serious conversation

How to Talk About Vaccines Without Starting a Fight

profile picture of Stephanie Grassullo
Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
06/11/2019
new york city's empire state building covered by dots that resemble measles rash

CDC: Measles Cases Have Now Hit a More Than 25-Year High

profile picture of Stephanie Grassullo
Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
05/31/2019
bar graph showing growth

Report: These Places in the US Have the Highest Risk of a Measles Outbreak

profile picture of Stephanie Grassullo
Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
05/10/2019
woman's hand holding her phone, which shows instagram icon and a vaccine

Instagram Doubles Down Efforts to Stop the Spread of Misinformation on Vaccines

profile picture of Stephanie Grassullo
Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
05/09/2019

Q&A: Modified Immunization Schedule?

profile picture of Dr. Cheryl Wu
Dr. Cheryl Wu
Pediatrician
Little boy with bandaid on arm looking at camera

NYC Declares Public Health Emergency, Orders Mandatory Measles Vaccinations

profile picture of Stephanie Grassullo
Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
04/09/2019
young school children sitting with their arms around each other

Italy Will Now Ban Unvaccinated Kids From School

profile picture of Stephanie Grassullo
Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
03/13/2019
medical researcher performing tests in a lab

Massive New Study Once Again Proves No Link Between Vaccines and Autism

profile picture of Stephanie Grassullo
Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
03/05/2019
Article removed.