Although most children infected with measles make a full recovery, measles is a dangerous virus that can cause serious medical complications, lead to permanent damage, and even kill. Of the American citizens who got measles during the 2019 epidemic, 9% ended up hospitalized and 3% developed pneumonia. (McKay, 4-30-2019) About a third of children with measles will develop other complications, such as diarrhea (which leads to dangerous dehydration), pneumonia, or ear infections. (Evans & McKay, 2019)
Measles & pregnant women
Measles is particularly worrisome for pregnant women, who are at higher risk for complications due to the virus. It can lead to premature birth, low birthweight, miscarriage, or result in a baby being born with measles, according to the CDC.
Pneumonia from measles
Pneumonia is just a fancy word for a serious lung infection that can develop from many different illnesses that make it difficult for a person to breathe. Around 10% of people who get measles will develop pneumonia.
Brain damage from measles
“My oldest child caught measles before she could be vaccinated, and she was left with an intellectual disability. ” -Sandy Thompson (Readers Digest, Feb. 2023, p. 84)
Around 1 in every 1,000 people infected with the measles virus develops encephalitis; a type of brain inflammation that can damage the brain and leave the victim deaf or mentally disabled. The measles virus can also trigger subacute slerosing panencephalitis, a rare central nervous system disease that is typically fatal.
How measles can weaken the immune system
Another worrisome consequence is that the virus seems to impair the immune system, leaving a person’s immune defenses in a state of “amnesia” so that they can’t as well fight off future infections. Studies have long shown that getting measles increased the probability of childhood deaths fr0111 other infectious diseases in the next 28 to 35 months after contracting the virus. “It’s like a shadow,” says Dr. Michael Mina, an assistant professor at Harvard University who studies immune responses to the virus.
He and his colleagues have recently shed light on how this happens. When the body encounters the virus, immune system cells known as dendritic cells shepherd it to the lymph nodes, where it is screened by the immune system’s memory cells. These are cells that contain the archives of our past infections; a biological memory of the viruses that have sickened us before with instructions on antibodies that can attack each one.
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