On May 8, 2015, researchers from Princeton University, Emory University, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a paper looking at the longer-term effects of natural measles virus infection (Mina MJ, Metcalf JE, de Swart RL, et al. Long-term measles induced immunomodulation increases overall childhood infectious disease mortality. Science. 2015 May 8;348(6235):694-9).
Measles has, for a long time, been known to suppress the immune system, causing an increased susceptibility to other infections (like bacterial sepsis) for weeks to months. The mechanism for this immunosuppression was believed to be depletion of B and T cells, including memory cells that would have been induced by other vaccines. This study in Science shows that the immunosuppression can actually last for several years, leading to an increase in a variety of different infections following a natural measles virus infection. As was expected, the authors found no such increase in unrelated infections following natural infection with pertussis.
This study adds another reason to the list of why it is important for children to receive a measles vaccine. Clearly, immunization with measles vaccine has the capacity to prevent more than just measles.
Read a related article from the journal Science.