Children residing in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC, who had previously been infected with measles were more likely to develop acute infectious disease symptoms years later compared with children who were never infected, according to research published in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society. The findings suggest that children who experience “postmeasles immunosuppression” are more susceptible to other infectious diseases in the future, researchers said.
“While additional studies are needed to understand the underlying biologic mechanism, children who have been infected with measles may be more likely to experience fever for 2 years or more following infection compared with children who remained measles-free,” Hayley R. Ashbaugh, DVM, MPH, PhD, a former student in the University of California, Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health, and a current employee of the Defense Health Agency’s Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch, told Infectious Diseases in Children. “If measles infection within the past couple years might make Congolese children more vulnerable to other infectious diseases, this further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and prevention efforts against this significant disease.”
In their study, Ashbaugh and colleagues included 2,350 children whose mothers completed the 2013-2014 DRC Demographic and Health Survey. All children were aged 9 to 59 months. Measles infection was confirmed through maternal recall and dried-blood-spot analysis. The researchers evaluated the relationship between past measles infection and subsequent episodes of fever, cough and diarrhea, as well as the length of time between them.
Of the 177 children who had a date of measles infection and met inclusion criteria, the median time since disease was 14.8 months. According to the researchers, children with a history of measles were nearly two times more likely to have had a fever in the previous 2 weeks compared with children who were not infected (OR = 1.8; 95% 1.25-2.6). When children were vaccinated against the measles, they were less likely to develop certain clinical markers of acute infectious diseases, including fever, diarrhea and a combination of all three outcomes.
“This study focused only on children in the DRC who were younger than age 5 years, but other studies that are lab-based or that have examined measles-infected children from wealthy countries suggest that measles infection induces prolonged immune suppression,” Ashbaugh said. “Continued research is needed to determine what this might mean for children in the United States, but studies done so far underscore the serious nature of the disease and the importance of measles prevention through vaccination.” – by Katherine Bortz
Editor’s Note: The views expressed here are the authors’ alone and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense or the U.S. government.
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.