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Infants susceptible to measles infection earlier than assumed

Date: 25 November 2019 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

A study has shown that antibodies from the mother, which protects the child against measles, almost disappear by the end of three months and not six months as earlier thought.

 

Background

Measles is a highly infectious acute viral illness that can lead to severe complications, such as pneumonia, encephalitis and death. Children younger than five years who get infected with measles have higher rates of complications, hospitalisation and even death.

 

Details

  • Currently, as per the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation, children in countries like India with ongoing transmission of measles are vaccinated only at 9-12 months of age.

  • In countries with no ongoing transmission, the first dose is administered when the baby is 12-15 months of age.

  • This would mean that babies would remain susceptible to measles infection for a longer period of time before they get vaccinated with the first dose.

  • The authors also found that the probability of infants getting infected increased with maternal age. This is because pregnant mothers remain protected through vaccination and not through natural infection.

  • They predict that a one-month-old infant has 25% probability of getting infected with measles if the mother is 25 years old but the probability increases to 40% if the mother is 40 years old.

  • Studies carried out in measles-endemic settings, as in the case of India, show that many mothers gain immunity through natural infection and are also continually exposed to the virus, leading to repeated immunologic boosting and more robust antibody levels.

  • But in countries where measles has been eliminated or is close to elimination, mothers gain immunity through childhood vaccination, which has been associated with lower antibody levels compared with natural infection.

  • Infants born to mothers in countries where measles virus has been eliminated have lower maternal antibodies and these antibodies quickly fall below the threshold of protection leaving them to susceptible to infection before they receive the first measles vaccination dose.

  • Therefore, the best strategy for protecting infants against measles, according to the researchers is adequate community protection delivered through high coverage [over 95%] of two doses of measles-containing vaccine.