HealthDay News — Pediatric patients who survive a measles infection remain vulnerable to other potentially deadly infections for as long as two or three years post-infection, study findings published in Science indicate.

“Immunosuppression after measles is known to predispose people to opportunistic infections for a period of several weeks to months,” noted Michael Mina, PhD, of Princeton University in New Jersey, and colleagues.

To examine the prolonged effect on host resistance of measles, the investigators analyzed public health data from before and after mass measles vaccinations began in Denmark, England, Wales, and the United States.

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In all three countries, the childhood mortality rate fell by nearly 50% following the introduction of the measles vaccine. Children in Denmark, England, Wales, and the United States who contracted and survived the measles were more likely to subsequently die from another infectious disease.

“We find that nonmeasles infectious disease mortality in high-income countries is tightly coupled to measles incidence at this lag, in both the pre- and post-vaccine eras,” noted the investigators.

Children’s immune systems in England and Wales appeared to be weakened for as long as 28 months following a measles infection, during which time they were at increased risk for death from a viral or bacterial disease, the researchers reported. In the United States, the effect lasted about 31 months, and in Denmark, about 26 months.

“These results provide population evidence for a generalized prolonged (roughly two- to three-year) impact of measles infection on subsequent mortality from other infectious diseases,” concluded the scientists.

The effect appears specific to measles. The research team conducted a similar analysis on pertussis, and found no association between a country’s pertussis rate and subsequent childhood deaths due to other infectious diseases.