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Posts Tagged ‘immune amnesia’


Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

 

One of the most contagious diseases known to humankind, measles killed an average of 2.6 million people each year before a vaccine was developed, according to the World Health Organization. Widespread vaccination has slashed the death toll. However, lack of access to vaccination and refusal to get vaccinated means measles still infects more than 7 million people and kills more than 100,000 each year worldwide as reported by WHO. The cases are on the rise, tripling in early 2019 and some experience well-known long-term consequences, including brain damage and vision and hearing loss. Previous epidemiological research into immune amnesia suggests that death rates attributed to measles could be even higher, accounting for as much as 50 percent of all childhood mortality.

 

Over the last decade, evidence has mounted that the measles vaccine protects in two ways. It prevents the well-known acute illness with spots and fever and also appears to protect from other infections over the long term by giving general boost to the immune system. The measles virus can impair the body’s immune memory, causing so-called immune amnesia. By protecting against measles infection, the vaccine prevents the body from losing or “forgetting” its immune memory and preserves its resistance to other infections. Researchers showed that the measles virus wipes out 11% to 73% of the different antibodies that protect against viral and bacterial strains a person was previously immune to like from influenza to herpes virus to bacteria that cause pneumonia and skin infections.

 

This study at Harvard Medical School and their collaborators is the first to measure the immune damage caused by the virus and underscores the value of preventing measles infection through vaccination. The discovery that measles depletes people’s antibody repertoires, partially obliterating immune memory to most previously encountered pathogens, supports the immune amnesia hypothesis. It was found that those who survive measles gradually regain their previous immunity to other viruses and bacteria as they get re-exposed to them. But because this process may take months to years, people remain vulnerable in the meantime to serious complications of those infections and thus booster shots of routine vaccines may be required.

 

VirScan detects antiviral and antibacterial antibodies in the blood that result from current or past encounters with viruses and bacteria, giving an overall snapshot of the immune system. Researchers gathered blood samples from unvaccinated children during a 2013 measles outbreak in the Netherlands and used VirScan to measure antibodies before and two months after infection in 77 children who’d contracted the disease. The researchers also compared the measurements to those of 115 uninfected children and adults. Researchers found a striking drop in antibodies from other pathogens in the measles-infected children that clearly suggested a direct effect on the immune system resembling measles-induced immune amnesia.

 

Further tests revealed that severe measles infection reduced people’s overall immunity more than mild infection. This could be particularly problematic for certain categories of children and adults, the researchers said. The present study observed the effects in previously healthy children only. But, measles is known to hit malnourished children much harder, the degree of immune amnesia and its effects could be even more severe in less healthy populations. Inoculation with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine did not impair children’s overall immunity. The results align with decades of research. Ensuring widespread vaccination against measles would not only help prevent the expected 120,000 deaths that will be directly attributed to measles this year alone, but could also avert potentially hundreds of thousands of additional deaths attributable to the lasting damage to the immune system.

 

References:

 

https://hms.harvard.edu/news/inside-immune-amnesia?utm_source=Silverpop

 

https://science.sciencemag.org/content/366/6465/599

 

www.who.int/immunization/newsroom/measles-data-2019/en/

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20636817

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27157064

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30797735

 

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