HEADLINES Published May8, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

Measles Vaccine Prevents Deaths from Other Infections, Too

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Vaccinating against measles appears to protect the immune system from damage that can let other infections through.
(Photo : Joe Raedle, Getty Images )

Being immunized with the measles vaccines protects you from catching the measles. But a new study has found that it also appears to protect you from damage to your immune system that lets other infections slip through. The study found a lower incidence of deaths due to other infections in vaccinated populations. Because vaccination prevents the measles and thus prevents measles amnesia, it appears to lower the rates of these other infections.

The measles virus is known to damage the immune system for a period of time after an infection, killing off immune cells that remember how to deal with diseases that the immune system has fought off already. This death of the cells that remember is a phenomenon known as "measles amnesia." Previously, it was thought that "measles amnesia" only lasted a few weeks at most. The study published in the journal Science found that it lasts much longer than that.

The study looked at decades of health information from the United States, England, Wales, and Denmark and found that "measles amnesia" lasts an average of 28 months.

Researchers, from Princeton and Emory universities, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands, found that preventing measles lowered the risk of death from other infections. Children who had come down with measles were more likely to die from other infections such as pneumonia, sepsis, bronchitis, and intestinal infections during those months when their immune system was compromised by measles.

This finding adds more weight to the argument that measles is not a mild infection, an argument which has been used by people who are against vaccinations. The rate of vaccination against measles has been dropping in the United States for the last few years due to discredited claims that the vaccine is linked to autism.

A large measles epidemic just ended in the United States that started at Disneyland in California, probably by a tourist who carried the virus.

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