'Prior to vaccination, measles infected nearly everyone.' Picture: Reuters

London - Children who catch measles are more vulnerable to other deadly infections for the next two to three years, experts have warned.

Scientists say the disease wipes out a child’s immunity against other infections.

The findings would help explain the mysterious large drops in mortality of up to 50 percent following the introduction of measles vaccinations in 1968, the researchers said.

The research, led by assistant professor Michael Mina from Harvard Medical School in Boston, has been backed by previous studies which show that the measles virus infects a large proportion of the "memory cells" of the immune system.

This leads to so called "immune-amnesia", which stops the immune system remembering some of the diseases it has fought in the past.

A UK study on more than 2 200 children with measles found they were 24 percent more likely to need antibiotics in the five years after having the disease than children who never had it. They were also more likely to suffer from chest infections, viral illnesses and tonsillitis.

Professor Mina, who will present his findings at the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID) conference in Bilbao, Spain, urged parents to vaccinate their children.

"Prior to vaccination, measles infected nearly everyone," he said.

"We now think that measles infections may erase pre-existing immune memory. By preventing measles infection through vaccination, we prevent future infection with other infectious diseases allowed back into the body by the damage done by measles.

"Epidemiological data from the UK, US and Denmark shows that measles causes children to be at a heightened risk of infectious disease mortality from other non-measles infections for approximately two to three years."

Before the introduction of a measles vaccine, there were between 160 000 and 800 000 cases reported a year – and around 100 fatalities.

Children need two vaccinations, at aged one and aged three, to fully protect against the disease.

Daily Mail