Does measles suppress your immune system via immune amnesia? Let’s do some ‘fact-checking.’

In 2002, Dr. Peter Aaby and co-authors published a study conducted in rural Senegal, in the area which had an outbreak of measles.  According to the study: “No index or secondary case of measles died in the acute phase of infection nor did any of the children exposed to measles die in the first 2 months after exposure.” (And given what we know from the 2015 Lancet Global Health publication, identifying vitamin A deficiency as a risk factor for mortality from measles, we can safely assume that perhaps children in this area were not as deficient in vitamin A, as children in other parts of Africa and Asia, where measles infection is known to result in high mortality.)

Dr. Aaby and co-authors were testing a commonly held assumption that after surviving measles, children would have a higher mortality rate from other infections due to long-term immune-suppression, which is thought to follow measles.  But they got the opposite results.  In fact, they found that: “Exposed children developing clinical measles had lower age-adjusted mortality over the next 4 years than exposed children who did not develop clinical measles.”

Why then all this recent hysteria about measles resulting in immune amnesia, as if that’s going to kill you?

There are a few research publications that have been picked up by the media or referenced by other research publications to unnecessarily feed these fears.

Let’s first look at the PLoS Pathology 2012 publication titled “Measles immune suppression: lessons from the macaque model.”

Researchers state: “Here we show that MV preferentially infects CD45RA(-) memory T-lymphocytes and follicular B-lymphocytes, resulting in high infection levels in these populations. After the peak of viremia MV-infected lymphocytes were cleared within days… Our findings indicate an immune-mediated clearance of MV-infected CD45RA(-) memory T-lymphocytes and follicular B-lymphocytes, which causes temporary immunological amnesia.”

OK, here we have a preferential infection of memory lymphocytes by the measles virus resulting in a temporary loss of immunologic memory.  So what?  When was it ever proven that immunologic memory has anything to do with protection from re-infection? In fact, the opposite has been demonstrated by the research conducted in the lab of Swiss scientist Dr. Rolf Zinkernagel, who won the Nobel Prize in 1996.  In the title of his 2012 review, he clearly states: “Immunologic memory does not equal protective immunity.”

Furthermore, the varicella (chickenpox) virus does exactly the same thing as the measles virus – it infects memory lymphocytes, as revealed in another research paper published in PLoS Pathology in 2013: “During viremia the virus preferentially infected memory T-cells, initially central memory T-cells and subsequently effector memory T-cells.”

Yet, no one is screaming from rooftops that chickenpox will make you die from the next common cold you contract.  Perhaps, that would be too obvious a lie to all the chickenpox survivors who do not remember suffering from any type of immune-suppression, despite the fact that the varicella virus infected their memory T cells.  But because the vaccine-measles generation has nearly completely taken the place of the natural-measles generation, the media can get away with spreading such fears without common sense to stop them.

Another paper published recently in Science is titled “Measles virus infection diminishes preexisting antibodies that offer protection from other pathogens.”

‘Antibodies that offer protection’? Let’s pause right here.  When was it ever proven that antibodies offer protection? In fact, the opposite has been observed. Don’t we remember another famous immunologist and a 1960 Nobel Prize winner Sir Macfarlane Burnet telling us the following regarding the role of antibodies (or rather lack thereof) for immunity in children who lacked antibody production due to a genetic condition called agammaglobulinemia:

“To everyone’s surprise [children with agammaglobulinemia] showed a normal measles course with a typical rash which faded at the normal time and was followed by just as substantial immunity against reinfection as would be shown by any other convalescent. Antibody production is therefore not necessary either for recovery from or for the development of immunity to measles.” (Burnet and White. Natural History of Infectious Disease. Cambridge University Press, 1940)

And don’t we know of a modern-day paper showing that medical professionals with positive antibody titers for measles can still develop measles:

“Hospital employees working in patient care areas from July through November 1990 were screened for measles antibody levels using a commercially available enzyme immunoassay (EIA). Four healthcare workers vaccinated in the past developed measles.  All had positive pre-illness measles antibody levels.” …

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