Can measles prevent the development of atopic allergies?
News from "the Lancet"
Heinz Wittwer, Switzerland
It is a widespread experience, that an infectious disease in childhood
can be favourable to the child's general development. A study recently
published in the medical journal "The Lancet" now suggests, that people
who did not undergo a measles infection are at higher risk to develop an
atopic allergy.(1) This for the first time is a hint, that childhood
diseases could also have very distinct beneficial effects.
The study was done among the indigenous population of a semi-rural part
of Guinea-Bissau, a small state south of Senegal, West Africa. The
people there are living in multi-family houses made of mud-bricks, that
sometimes were even shared with pigs. Between 1978 and 1980 there had
been a campaign of nutrition and child health, during which small
children were registered and vaccinated against measles in case they had
not had them yet. In 1994 those individuals still living in the same
area were tested for atopy by applying the seven most common antigens
with a skin-prick test. Analysis of the results showed, that atopic
allergy (mostly against house dust mites) was only half as frequent in
the group of those young adults who had had measles in early childhood
(17 cases of atopy among those 133 participants who had had measles,
compared with 33 cases among 129 vaccinated participants, who didn't
have the infection). In accordance with studies conducted elsewhere in
the world the risk of atopy in Guinea-Bissau was also related to a
shorter period of breast feeding and a higher socioeconomic status. When
the results were corrected for these two potentially confounding
variables, the correlation between measles infection and low risk of
atopy became even stronger.
One could suspect, that the higher incidence of atopy among vaccinated
individuals might be a negative effect of the vaccination itself.
Probable damage to the immune system by measles vaccination is being
discussed even by the allopathic community (see Homoeopathic Links 4/94,
p. 41), but a study conducted in Great Britain failed to give a
correlation between atopy and measles vaccination. So most probably we
are facing here a true benefit of measles infection.
Could it be that an infectious disease in early childhood helps to
prevent the development of an atopic allergy? The study in Guinea-Bissau
seems to tell us so. The same hypothesis is also supported by the
findings of German epidemiologists, that the risk of atopy is decreasing
as the number of siblings a child grew up with is increasing (potential
sources of infection!). It is still to early for a definite answer, but
it looks as if the price for the presently tempted eradication of the
typical childhood diseases might be higher than expected. Maybe we soon
will all be longing back to the good old times of measles again.
8004 Zürich, Switzerland
Bibliography: 1. Lancet, Vol. 347, p. 1792-96 (1996) and references
Jan F. Lips, DHOM, HMC
Calgary Centre for Homeopathy