Two studies of unvaccinated children in an Orthodox Protestant community in the Netherlands found that measles leaves the body less equipped to fight off new infections. Many of the deaths attributable to measles virus are caused by secondary infections, it’s a known fact. “We’ve found really strong evidence that the measles virus is actually destroying the immune system,” said Prof Stephen Elledge, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School. Globally, measles affects more than 7 million people each year and causes more than 100,000 deaths.
Measles is highly contagious and can be spread when someone with the virus coughs, sneezes or exhales. Inside the respiratory tract, the virus penetrates immune cells that sit at the interface between the lungs and bloodstream. After, the virus replicates and spreads to immune cells throughout the body. The study led by Velislava Petrova, of the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Cambridge University, says measles erodes two separate lines of defence of the immune system. After measles, a substantial proportion of immune memory cells had disappeared from the children’s blood, in what the scientists described as “immune amnesia”. “Maybe after five years you would recover,” said Velislava. The scientists also determined that the MMR vaccine itself did not produce immune suppression.