The results of a new epidemiological study support the hypothesis that the measles vaccine may protect against other life-threatening diseases. According to an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) news report, the study suggests that the children who survive the measles are susceptible to other infections for more than 2 years, which bolsters the hypothesis that the measles virus undermines the immune system’s memory.
In order to test the hypothesis that the measles vaccine may spur the immune system to produce defenses against other diseases, researchers obtained data on the numbers of measles cases and deaths from other infectious diseases in the United States, Denmark, and part of the United Kingdom. The team’s analysis aimed to determine whether there was a relationship between the number of measles cases and the number of kids who died from other diseases.
The researchers calculated that children who survive measles remain vulnerable to other diseases for an average of 2.5 years, and the value was almost the same for all three countries, according to the AAAS report. Michael Mina, lead author of the study, says, “Our results suggest that the adverse effects of measles are much more lasting.”
In addition, the research team found that the length of susceptible period did not change in any of the three countries after introduction of vaccination. According to AAAS, the finding supports the notion that the measles vaccine benefits children not just because it prevents them from getting measles, but also because it provides protection against the other diseases.
William Moss, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, explains that the evidence is indirect but the results are “highly suggestive” that measles is contributing to this longer period of immune suppression. If the researchers are right, Moss states, “The benefits of measles vaccination are far greater than simply the reduction in measles deaths.”