Measles may be good for children after all. Researchers have discovered that African children who catch measles tend to suffer less from allergic conditions, such as asthma, eczema and hay fever.
This is in contrast to children in developed countries who, while supposedly protected from the usual childhood diseases by vaccination, go on to suffer a range of allergy related (atopic) conditions in increasing numbers.
Earlier research has indicated that the childhood diseases, such as measles, mumps and German measles (rubella), might provide natural desensitization against atopy.
Now researchers from Southampton General Hospital in England have discovered that measles may well prevent atopy after studying 262 young people, aged between 14 and 20, from Guinea Bissau. All of them had had measles, and the researchers tested their levels of sensitivity with skin prick tests.
Just 12 per cent were atopic compared to 26 per cent in another group who had been vaccinated against measles and so had not caught the disease.
Researchers also noted that children who had been breastfed for more than a year were less likely to have a positive skin test to housedust mite, thought to be one cause of asthma.
Interestingly, the scientists were only able to prove what the mothers knew from observations. The mothers seemed to know exactly who had contracted measles during an epidemic in the country in 1979 just by seeing who suffers from allergies today. Tests showed that they were invariably right (The Lancet, June 29, 1996).
Three cases of Guillain Barre syndrome, which causes nerves to inflame, have been reported following the UK's measles, mumps mass vaccination programme in 1994. Scientists had expected at least seven cases, which may indicate an under reporting of the reaction
!ABMJ, June 8, 1996.