Immunity Amnesia

I was fascinated as well as horrified to read that getting the measles leaves an individual with a compromised immune system that increases  vulnerability to other infections like flu and pneumonia.  The measles makes the immune system forget all the antibodies it has built up against diseases already encountered, leaving the post-measles sufferer at risk to catch diseases they already had. Boy, is that unfair, as well as dangerous.  This phenomenon is called “Immunity Amnesia”

I remember getting chickenpox, measles, rubella, mumps, and roseola.  I remember polio vaccine in a sugar cube, as well as a small pox booster.   I didn’t run into anyone who had a bad experience with these childhood illnesses until I encountered some middle aged and elderly developmentally disabled folks in our area who contracted measles or scarlet fever as very young children long before there were vaccines and were left with serious intellectual and developmental disabilities.  How tragic, and how wonderful we have vaccines now.

 What do you remember about childhood illnesses? 

39 thoughts on “Immunity Amnesia”

  1. Hey this is just what I write on a daily bases of getting my writing out there; I was not trying too pose I knew everyone Dear Prudence, I met a guy…
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    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

    Show original message

    Hilary Telford

    Dec 4 at 11:04 PM

    Yes- I think that would help people understand- I just want a supportive friend


  2. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    I had all the experiences that you define in the post, Renee. I did know some kids who had serious side effects, including Scarlet Fever. A friend of mine, Judy, was in bed for nearly 6 months with Scarlet Fever. I remember going to visit her in her darkened bedroom and understanding how bored and lonely she was. She had to do her homework without lights which must have been a bit difficult. Somehow, I got the message that if she did not rest and recover, she would have serious effects on her heart and her eyesight. As she got older she did not seem to have negative effects, but I lost track of her after college.

    I did not know about measles wiping out immune responses. That scrap of knowledge sure makes me wonder. I had both measles and German measles—I no longer remember the differences between the two. I have never been able to resist a cold virus and I have had real problems with bronchitis, walking pneumonia, and anything respiratory—was that the long term effect of measles?

    My sister had a truly impressive case of mumps that left her jowls so swollen she was nearly unrecognizable. There is an old picture of her in this state floating around somewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s important to know the the immune amnesia is temporary; it lasts about three years. Those three years, however, can be perilous if you’re exposed to pathogens that you were previously immune to. It’s estimated that nearly half of all childhood deaths from infectious diseases are attributable to this.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. i remember getting all the regular ones measles mumps etc and also pneumonia a couple times as a kid but what rings odd to me after reading this is how the regular deal at the time was to try and get everyone in the family together so the dang mumps could just get to everyone in the family at one time and be done . chicken pox and measles too these three were the big three on the 60s

    i started taking the shots they offer for flu and shingles after years of decking them

    health is an amazing thing you realize as it starts becoming a bigger part of your year.

    tim jones


    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think when the family gathered for exposure, the parents were just trying to cope with the prospect of caring for sick children for weeks on end. Judy’s family had six kids. I am sure they just wanted to get the entire thing over with.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Morning.
    I remember having chicken pox but was vaccinated against all the other stuff.
    I remember being diagnosed with psoriasis on my scalp when I was a teenager and I thought that was the end of the world. Even the doctor teased me; yep, everything is terrible now! At least I recognized sarcasm when I heard it. Which I think was probably the best response he could give me.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. A work friend of mine had rheumatic fever as a child in the 1970’s. Her parents lived about 10 miles from Dickinson on a farm. She was in the hospital for four months with continuous high fevers. She remembers being submerged in ice baths in the hospital in desperate attempts to reduce her temperature. What astonishes me is that she wasn’t transferred to a hospital in a bigger city like Fargo or Minneapolis. Her family rarely visited , even though they were so close by. She had heart valve damage, as is typical with rheumatic fever. In her 30’s she developed MS. Oddly enough, she is the most exuberant and energetic person I know. She goes non-stop from morning to night.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I remember marching into the gym in elementary school to drop spare change into a bucket or box for the March of Dimes. We were treated like little soldiers so much in elementary school. Line up, roll call, march to the bathroom, march to lunch, march to recess, march to the bus. I don’t think I ever saw any group of more than two kids walking down the hall without being in a line and being escorted by an adult of some sort–teacher, lunch lady, principal, nurse, whomever. I think it’s similar now except for the incessant talking by the kids. We were forced to be absolutely silent or there would be consequences! 😉

    I had most of the usual suspect diseases as a kid. Other than feeling miserable, I rather enjoyed staying home from school since I usually had excellent attendance (but I liked school, so no big deal to be there, either).

    I also remember Mom rubbing Vicks Vaporub on my chest when I had a cold or sore throat. Unfortunately, she never sang “Soft Kitty” to me. I’m not even sure that was written back then. Might be a Millennial thing.

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Husband’s mother had rheumatic fever, and the resulting heart complications eventually killed her in her early 50’s.


  8. I notice in the news that someone in England contracted Monkey Pox on a trip to Africa. What form would the Baboon Flu take, I wonder?


    1. I got bad sores in my mouth when I was maybe 35 yrs old. Doc said it was ‘foot and mouth disease’. It was really terrible with my mouth so full of sores I could barely talk let alone eat.
      It wasn’t contagious though- or maybe just ‘not anymore’ – but luckily no one else got it.


  9. I had both the German and red measles, and chicken pox. I remember that my friend Sandy could come over because she had them too… she was almost hyperactive and kind of drove my mom nuts. That’s about it, and I’ve had very little sickness the rest of my life… Lyme Disease a couple of years ago being the next big thing.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I remember the weirdness of being quarantined. I might have forgotten that, but we have a photo from 1950. My mother and sister pose in front of the front door of our house, standing near empty milk bottles waiting for the milkman. I’m just inside the glass door, staring with longing at a world I couldn’t enter. There is a big sign, black letters on a yellow field, on the house. It says, WARNING! CHICKEN POX WITHIN When you were isolated in quarantine, you often felt normal but were strictly forbidden to leave the home or play or mix with your friends.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. A femur, fractured in two places, probably doesn’t qualify as an illness, but that’s my first memory of an encounter with the “medical establishment.” It caused me to spend my first Christmas in Denmark in the hospital, flat on my back with my right leg hoisted in the air; I was three and a half years old, and didn’t speak Danish when I was admitted. By the time I was released a couple of months later, much to my mother’s chagrin, I spoke only Danish and had to learn to walk all over again since my leg muscles had atrophied to the point of resembling wet noodles. The amount of detail that is vividly ensconced in my brain from that accident is truly remarkable.

    In the ensuing years, I had most of the common childhood diseases, including mumps, German measles, measles, and chickenpox.

    At the boarding school, I recall the annual vaccinations against diphtheria. While the shot itself wasn’t that painful, the two or three days following it were. I recall us all being miserable, barely able to lift one arm because of a stiff and painful shoulder. The nuns must have been going crazy with a bunch of kids all whining about their sore shoulders and slight fevers. The annual TB test to measure if we needed a booster vaccine against tuberculosis was pretty innoccuous, and the later polio vaccine on a sugar cube was a breeze.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’ve mentioned before that I had polio. I came down with that shortly before the vaccine was developed. Two days flat on my back in bed. Boring! Then I had about a week in a wheelchair. It was September and mice were beginning to come in our home, so I had a mousetrap trapline which I patrolled, rolling around. No long range polio issues, thank the lord. Polio was my mother’s ultimate nightmare. In those days all the retail stores had displays asking folks to donate a dime to combat polio. The signs included a 3D metal can printed to resemble an iron lung, and that was where you dropped your dime.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I also wrote once before about going to a movie and getting furious about a public service film they ran between the features. Some kid in crutches was staring at the camera while a famous singer sang You’ll Never Walk Alone. I couldn’t control my disgust. “That poor kid KNOWS he’s a cripple, so why do you gotta remind him he’ll never walk alone?”

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I have a vague memory of having chicken pox. Was told I had measles and mumps as well, but I don’t remember. The chicken pox resurfaced as shingles when I was 50. Wouldn’t it be nice if all those diseases were permanently stamped out, like smallpox?

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Debunking that “Measles Amnesia” narrative

    “if you get measles, it actually ERASES your immune system’s memory”

     – Just so you know, that claim turned out to be false. It wasn’t “real science” at all. The New York Times (NYT 11.1.2019) article on this subject is titled, “Measles Can Kill Memory Used by Immune System.” The NYT was referring to two new studies published October 31, 2019 that show that measles infection can cause lasting harm to the immune system. The NYT claims the measles infection “…erases that memory leaving the patient prone to catching {previous} diseases all over again.”

    Further in the article, the NYT states, “In fact, if a person who has received vaccinations for other diseases contracts measles, it may wipe out the protection those vaccines had provided.”

    Alas, it is NOT true.

    (An excellent blog post on this topic was written by Tetyana Obukhanych, PhD. Her post can be found here: I utilized information from her blog in the following paragraph.)
    It is true that the researchers found individuals who suffered measles infection had lowered antibody levels after the infection.   That could pose a problem if antibody levels conferred protection against an illness.
    But research dating back to 1960 has shown this to be false. The 1960 Nobel prize was awarded to Sir Macfarlane Burnet for studying children who cannot produce antibodies.
    Agammaglobulinemia is a genetic condition characterized by a lack of production of antibodies. Dr. Burnet found children with this condition, when infected with measles, had a normal course of the illness and recovered uneventfully. He wrote,
    “To everyone’s surprise [children with agammaglobulinemia] showed a normal measles course with a typical rash which faded at the normal time and was followed by just as substantial immunity against reinfection as would be shown by any other convalescent. Antibody production is therefore not necessary either for recovery from or for the development of immunity to measles.” (Burnet and White. Natural History of Infectious Disease. Cambridge University Press, 1940)
    Dr. Obukhanych also points out the chickenpox, similarly to measles also results in the loss of immune memory cells. That does not mean that chickenpox survivors were suddenly becoming infected with previous illnesses or previously vaccinated illnesses.

    Measles amnesia? There is simply no good science showing that those recently recovering from measles (or chickenpox) are at an increased risk of infection from previous infections or from previously vaccinated illnesses.

    Where is the data that, in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, that we were having a recurrence of previous infections in measles survivors? As I stated above, the same holds true for chickenpox.

    In fact, there is robust data that those who recovered from natural measles infection were protected against a wide range of illnesses and that those same individuals had a lowered mortality when compared to children who did not get the infection naturally.

    Other researchers have found a life-long benefit of recovering from measles infection. This benefit includes a lowered risk of asthma, autoimmune disorders, and mortality from heart disease.

    Does measles infection suddenly wipe the immune system clean making the host susceptible to old illnesses? To answer this question, ask the mothers of the kids born in the 1950’s and 1960’s this question: Did your children suffer terrible illnesses they previously had after measles or chickenpox infection? The answer is “NO”!

    History, logic, and science debunk that crap about “Measles amnesia”


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