• Frances Ubogu

New Studies Link Measles to Immune Amnesia

Measles, an extremely contagious disease caused by the Rubeola virus, presents itself in sufferers through a host of symptoms, including:

- Fever

- Cough

- Sore throat

- Runny noses

- Inflamed rashes on the skin

Due to the disease’s highly contagious nature and relatively nonexistent cure, people may tend to flippantly underestimate its seriousness. New research, though, has shown that measles is a far deadlier and damaging disease than was once thought.

Apart from the mortality rate of 20–30 percent in complicated infections (in countries without adequate health care), the measles disease can result in a weakened immune system, known as immune amnesia.

New research links the Rubeola virus to the onset of immune amnesia, the weakening of an individual’s immune system, caused by the destruction of the system’s antibody-producing cells. Antibodies, which are proteins produced by the immune system to target foreign pathogens (disease causing agents), bind to pathogens and destroy them and their effects on the human body. The presence of antibodies in the immune system is what gives us our “immunity”; we are able to fight off diseases we have been previously infected with. It is important to note that antibodies are produced during and after exposure to disease- individuals who have been previously infected with chicken pox, for example, never acquire the disease again. This is a result of the antibodies that were produced as the immune system fought off the disease, giving previous sufferers “immunity” to the chicken pox disease.

Measles eradicate the antibody-producing cells, leading to a suppression of the immune system and a loss of immunity in an individual who may have once possessed the defensive resources to protect against certain illnesses. Consequently, due to the loss of immunity, the infected individual is left vulnerable because the immune system, essentially, has “forgotten” how to defend itself- hence, the term “amnesia” in “immune amnesia.”

Even after patients recover from measles, their immune systems may be chronically affected by immune amnesia, sometimes for up to several years after the initial infection. Studies have shown that despite recovery from measles, previous sufferers may still possess amnesiac immune systems, meaning the effects of measles exposure are even more extensive and dangerous than was once thought.

The studies carried out by researchers contribute to the understanding of the importance of the measles vaccine. Not only does the vaccine protect against measles, it also protects against immune amnesia, and consequently, a host of other illnesses.

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