Measles is one of the major causes of death among children, even though there is a safe and effective vaccine against it. In fact, because fewer people have been getting vaccinated, the number of people dying from measles is increasing. Even if those who catch it survive, they tend to get sick more often than those who have never had the virus. Why is that? We wanted to find out about the long-term effects of measles on the immune system – perhaps they would hold the answer.
We collected blood samples from 77 unvaccinated children before and after they got infected with the virus during an outbreak in the Netherlands. We tracked the changes in antibodies (the particles that fight off pathogens) in the children’s bloodstream. We found that measles wipes out up to 73% of these antibodies, leaving the children unprotected against other diseases for months, and sometimes years. These findings further show the importance of vaccination.