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Study: Measles Can Weaken Immune System as Long as 3 Years

FILE - Pediatrician Charles Goodman vaccinates Cameron Fierro, 1, with the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine at his practice in Northridge, Calif., Jan. 29, 2015.

A new study says measles can continue to weaken the body's immune system for up to three years, much longer than previously known.

Researchers in the journal Science say measles plays havoc with what they call "immune amnesia," a phenomenon that destroys the immune system's ability to remember how to fight off other illnesses, including pneumonia and meningitis.

Princeton University professor Jessica Metcalf, a co-author of the study, said that "in other words, if you get measles, three years down the road, you could die from something that you would not die from had you not been infected with measles."

But the researchers did have some good news: They found that vaccinating children against measles led to a drop in deaths from other potentially deadly infections.

They encourage parents to give children a measles shot, calling it "one of the most cost-effective interventions for global health."