Measles may be a somewhat forgotten disease, but every so often it comes back and gives medical professionals, including medical assistants, a scare. Although measles was eradicated from the United States in 20001, imported cases of the disease can affect those who are not immunized against it. New research, published in the journal Science, suggests that the measles vaccination can protect children against other infections as well.
Measles makes the body forget its memory
Our immune system has its own way of remembering what diseases a person has had as a way to protect against them in the future. Measles actually depletes the white blood cells that remember the disease. These cells do reemerge, but usually with an immunity against only measles and decreased protection against other infections. In essence, children will not experience the measles again, but have to be re-introduced to other diseases again to become immune to them.2 These diseases may then have a greater effect on the person than they would have before contracting the measles.
As C. Jessica Metcalf, Princeton assistant professor of evolutionary biology and ecology who worked on the study, explained to NBC News, “If you get measles, three years down the road, you could die from something that you would not die from had you not been infected with measles.”2
With the measles vaccine, children’s immune systems will forget all the stored knowledge they hold. The specialized white blood cell count is not affected, leaving them available to stave off other diseases. By receiving the vaccine, a child’s body is protected from measles, and has increased immunity to fend off other diseases.2
Recent outbreak re-ignites vaccine debate
The measles came back on the scene in December after surfacing at Disneyland in California. The outbreak has now been contained, according to the California Department of Public Health, but not before it affected 147 Americans (131 from California) and 159 Canadians.3 The majority of those infected had not been immunized against the measles, either due to personal reasons or age.
Although this small epidemic has since been quelled, the situation sparked another debate between those for and against vaccinations. Many believe that measles is a harmless, childhood disease that will strengthen immune systems overall.2 Others still refer to the now-retracted study published in 1998 by the journal The Lancet, conducted by Andrew Wakefield and a dozen co-authors, that fraudulently found the measles vaccination to be the cause of autism.4 Wakefield became the father of the anti-vaccine movement and still asserts that opinion today.
Health care experts state that delaying vaccinations or refusing to vaccinate at all will support another outbreak.
The vaccine is saving lives globally
In today’s world, around 20 million people are affected by the measles globally and 145,000 children die of the disease every year.2 However, researchers have noticed that with the introduction of the measles vaccine, the death rate from other diseases decreases. There has been a demonstrated, positive effect of the vaccine: Deaths related to childhood infectious diseases in Western countries have decreased from 16 per 100,000 cases before the vaccine to six per 100,000 after.5
A disease often thought to no longer be in existence, the measles is still prevalent around the world. With this new research linking the vaccine to increased immune quality, global vaccination campaigns will focus on children, especially those living in poor countries.5 Advances in medicine and additional knowledge into well-known diseases will assist health care professionals and certified medical assistants in patient care.
1“Measles History,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nov. 3, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/history.html
2“Measles vaccination saves you from more than measles,” Maggie Fox, NBC News, May 7, 2015. http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/measles-outbreak/measles-vaccination-saves-you-more-measles-n355501
3“California health authorities say large measles outbreak that began at Disneyland is over,” U.S. News, April 17, 2015. http://www.usnews.com/news/science/news/articles/2015/04/17/large-measles-outbreak-traced-to-disneyland-is-declared-over
4“Andrew Wakefield, father of the anti-vaccine movement, responds to the current measles outbreak for the first time,” Stav Ziv, Newsweek, Feb. 10, 2015. http://www.newsweek.com/2015/02/20/andrew-wakefield-father-anti-vaccine-movement-sticks-his-story-305836.html
5“Measles may increase susceptibility to other infections,” Nicholas Bakalar, NY Times, May7, 2015. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/05/07/measles-may-increase-susceptibility-to-other-infections/?_r=0