Measles Infection Possibly Weakens Immune System For Several Years; Researchers Urge Vaccination To Protect Children From Other Diseases

News outlets report on a study published in the journal Science showing measles infections can have long-term negative effects on children’s immune systems.

Los Angeles Times: Study points to years-long immune system woes from measles
“Scientists have known for decades that having measles suppresses kids’ immune systems for several weeks or months, leaving them ill-equipped to fight off pneumonia, bronchitis, diarrheal diseases, and other infections. Now a team of researchers has suggested that the measles virus may also confer a longer-lasting sort of ‘immune-amnesia’ that makes it harder for people to stave off other illnesses for two years or more…” (Brown, 5/7).

New York Times: Measles May Increase Susceptibility to Other Infections
“…Researchers examined data on post-measles infections in the United States, England and Wales, and Denmark both before and after the measles vaccine became available in the 1960s. They found a correlation between the number of measles cases in a given period and the number of deaths from non-measles infectious diseases in children in the two to three years afterward…” (Bakalar, 5/7).

NPR: Scientists Crack A 50-Year-Old Mystery About The Measles Vaccine
“…Like many viruses, measles is known to suppress the immune system for a few weeks after an infection. But previous studies in monkeys have suggested that measles takes this suppression to a whole new level: It erases immune protection to other diseases, [study author Michael Mina, a postdoc in biology at Princeton University and a medical student at Emory University,] says…” (Doucleff, 5/7).

Reuters: Study shows measles vaccine thwarts other infectious diseases
“… ‘Our work reiterates the true importance of preserving high levels of measles vaccine coverage as the consequences of measles infections may be much more devastating than is readily observable,’ Mina said…” (Dunham, 5/7).

Science News: Measles vaccine protects against other deadly diseases
“… ‘It is indirect evidence,’ says William Moss, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. But he says that the results are ‘highly suggestive’ that measles is contributing to this longer period of immune suppression. And if the researchers are right, he says, ‘the benefits of measles vaccination are far greater than simply the reduction in measles deaths’…” (Leslie, 5/7).

VOA News: Study: Measles Can Weaken Immune System as Long as 3 Years
“…[The researchers] encourage parents to give children a measles shot, calling it ‘one of the most cost-effective interventions for global health’…” (5/7).

The KFF Daily Global Health Policy Report summarized news and information on global health policy from hundreds of sources, from May 2009 through December 2020. All summaries are archived and available via search.

KFF Headquarters: 185 Berry St., Suite 2000, San Francisco, CA 94107 | Phone 650-854-9400
Washington Offices and Barbara Jordan Conference Center: 1330 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005 | Phone 202-347-5270 | Email Alerts: | |

The independent source for health policy research, polling, and news, KFF is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.