Health professionals have known for a long time that getting measles can cause serious health problems including death, but a pair of new studies suggest that the damage of catching the virus can last for years after you recover.
The new research comes as the U.S. saw a significant measles outbreak in 2019. The at least 1,250 cases in 31 states that peaked in April were the biggest outbreak in the country since 1992, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The studies published in the journals Science and Science Immunology found that catching measles can weaken your immune system in future years, even after you’ve recovered from the virus. Measles with less immune “memory” to fight simple diseases like colds and the flu.
“When parents say no to getting a measles vaccine, you’re not just taking a risk of your kid getting measles, you’re causing them to lose this amazing resource of defenses they’ve built up over the years before measles, and that puts them at risk of catching other infections,” Dr. Michael J. Mina of the Harvard Medical School and lead author of one of the new studies told the New York Times. “You’ve got to watch your kid’s back for a few more years.”
Dr. Kevin Dahlman, medical director of Aurora Children’s Health, says the new studies provide another reminder why it’s so important for children to be vaccinated against measles.
“There is virtually no risk with this vaccine,” Dahlman says. “Measles is not a kind disease.”