WEOS Finger Lakes Public Radio

Research connects measles to 'immune amnesia'

Nov 5, 2019
Originally published on November 4, 2019 6:07 pm

New research has shown signs that a measles infection can produce an “immune amnesia” effect.

Emil Lesho, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at Rochester Regional Health, said the research shows that the harms of a measles infection last well past when the body seems to beat the virus.

“It impairs your body’s ability to fight new infections,” Lesho said. “And diseases that you already previously exposed to, it also impaired your ability to fight those, as well.”

Lesho says the measles virus seems to indiscriminately attack a wide array of the body’s immune cells, and thereby erases “a good chunk” of the body’s memory of what infections it’s already beaten.

Two separate studies published Nov. 1, one in the journal Science and one in Science Immunology, are the basis of this new evidence.

Lesho said the measles virus is highly contagious, and local cases of measles in the last year highlight the need for people to be vaccinated.

“It’s a big deal, because when a person that has measles comes into a clinic, if you’ve shared any air in a room with that person, that room has to be quarantined for two hours,” he said. “You have to evacuate,” even in situations where the virus is suspected but unconfirmed.

Vaccinating against measles does not cause any of the immune amnesia associated with actually getting the virus, Lesho said.

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