Rash, fever, coughing. The effects of measles are rough, and they can be deadly in some cases. But two new companion studies suggest that the worst part of measles may not actually be measles itself. Instead, researchers have detailed how the disease can wipe out patients' immune systems and make them vulnerable to ailments they were once protected from, reports the Guardian. The phenomenon is called "immune amnesia," per CNN. Scientists have long noticed a link between measles and depleted immune systems—measles patients have typically been more susceptible to everything from the common cold to more serious ailments such as pneumonia or encephalitis afterward—and the studies in Science and Science Immunology lay out the broad scope of the problem and the mechanics behind it.
"We've found really strong evidence that the measles virus is actually destroying the immune system," says geneticist Stephen Elledge of Harvard Medical School, co-author of the Science paper. "The threat measles poses to people is much greater than we previously imagined." In that study, scientists looked at 77 children in the Netherlands whose parents did not vaccinate them on religious grounds, per the Los Angeles Times. Researchers examined blood samples before and after they contracted measles and found that the virus eliminated anywhere from 11% to 73% of antibodies in their system, putting some of them at high risk for other diseases. In a sense, their immune systems were returned to a "baby-like state," per a news release. The second study looked at the same group of children. Researchers agree on one easy takeaway: Get vaccinated. (A new anti-vax movie is raising worries.)