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Host allergic response variation in children with measles infection.

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In many infections some patients recover while others die or are permanently disabled. These extremes in clinical outcome may be determined as much by the capacity of the host to eliminate the infecting agent as by the antigenic load on the individual. Children with measles who do not recover may succumb to acute complications (mainly respiratory) or chronic disease (respiratory and neurological) may develop. Analysis of immunological function antedating any of these final events would assist in understanding their pathogenesis and possibly aid in management. In order to achieve t h i s , immunological responsiveness was at f i r st studied in 24 children with acute measles and compared with that in 20 children with established chronic post measles chest disease investigated 6 - 1 6 weeks after appearance of the rash. The immunosuppressive effects of acute measles were extensive. Total white cells were reduced and this reduction was accounted for entirely by lymphopenia which was equally expressed among the major lymphocyte sub-populations studied; the function of T cells, assessed by radioisotope incorporation into phytohaemaggiutinin-transformed lymphocytes and by delayed skin hypersensitivity to dinitrochlorobenzene, was depressed. Serum IgA was reduced in acute measles patients. In contrast there was a relative sparing of the measured indices of immunity in patients with chronic post measles chest disease, with the major defect being an impaired delayed hypersensitivity reaction to dinitrochlorobenzene. There were minor alterations in complement components in both groups of patients with the evidence suggesting minimal utilisation of the alternative pathway in acute measles and classical pathway in chronic patients. High levels of heterophile antibodies to sheep red blood cells were detected in patients with chronic chest disease. (11) The results suggested that the conditions for chronicity of pulmonary disease in measles were unlikely to be determined by persistent abnormalities in the immunopathological factors enumerated, most of which were normal in chronic patients. It was not possible to interpret the findings of defective delayed hypersensitivity and complement components in patients with chronic chest disease as being either the cause or the effect of chronicity. The latter findings would have to be compared with results in children who had recovered from measles studied six weeks after onset of rash. An attempt was made to resolve this problem. Twenty-two children with measles were studied in the acute stage of the rash and six weeks later and results compared with matched controls. The above findings in acute measles were confirmed: the total lymphocyte count and major lymphocyte sub-populations were significantly below control values. At six weeks the B cell and Null cell counts were s t i ll significantly diminished. The function of T cells assessed by radioisotope uptake by phytohaemagglutinin-stimulated lymphocytes and by delayed skin hypersensitivity reaction to dinitrochlorobenzene was impaired during the acute stage and this persisted for six weeks. No important abnormalities were detected in serum immunoglobulins and complement components. Partial reversal of immunological suppression caused by measles was therefore demonstrated at 6 weeks after the appearance of rash. Demonstration of a persistently defective delayed hypersensitivity in those who recovered made i t unlikely that this anergy was important in the development of chronicity. Complement abnormalities were similarly unrelated to progression to chronic lung damage. ( Children who recovered, when studied at six weeks, appeared to be worse o f f immunologically than those with established chronic chest disease following measles. Children with chronic chest disease were studied 6 - 1 6 weeks after onset of rash, by which time the partial reversal of immune deficiency, noted at 6 weeks, would be complete. Among the group of children studied during the acute rash of measles there were five who subsequently died and one who progressed to chronic chest disease. Results in these six children were compared with those in six age-matched children who recovered from measles within a week. In the children who subsequently died or developed chronic pneumonia, immunosuppression was more pronounced during the acute rash ( i . e ., 3 - 2 0 days before death) than in the children who recovered. The absolute total lymphocyte count (T and B cells) was s i g n i f i c a n t ly lower in those who died or developed chronicity. Mean serum C, was also lower in this group. There were no significant differences between the two groups for total white c e l l s , neutrophils, Null c e l l s, cells with both T and B cell markers, other complement factors, serum immunoglobulins and phytohaemagglutinin stimulation of lymphocytes. The total lymphocyte count in a further nineteen patients with measles who had died, studied retrospectively, was s i g n i f i c a n t l y lower than that in twenty-seven patients with measles who recovered. Children whose outcome was poor generally had absolute lymphocyte 3 counts below 2000 cells/mm whereas those who recovered had values above this level. (iv) Therefore children who w i l l die or develop chronic chest disease can be often distinguished, within two days of the appearance of the rash, from those who w i l l recover. In order to test the v a l i d i t y of this conclusion based on results obtained from a small sample the study was extended so as to increase the number of patients with measles who had severe lymphopenia (< 2000 cells/mm3). Seventy seven per cent of 30 children who had severe lymphopenia within 2 days of appearance of rash f a i l e d to recover: 30% died from pulmonary complications within a few days to two months of the onset of the exanthem while 47% developed chronic lung damage. This was s i g n i f i c a n t ly worse than the outcome in 30 children with lymphocyte counts above 2000 3 cells/mm , of whom 67% recovered, 33% developed chronic chest disease and none died. Persistence of severe lymphopenia (which was due to reduction 3 in both T and B cells) in those with i n i t i a l counts below 2000 cells/mm , for at least fifteen days after onset of rash, remained a good predictive index of morbidity and mortality. Reversal of immunoparesis in those with i n i t i a l severe lymphopenia was slower and less complete 42 days from the appearance of the rash in children who subsequently died or progressed to chronicity than in those who recovered. All patients who died f a i l ed to produce an adequate or sustained antibody response to measles. The results of these studies suggest that long term pulmonary and possibly neurological sequelae of measles are probably due to a transient widespread immunoparesis during early measles with persistent defects in specific immunity to measles and probably other viruses, whereas recovery is due to less severe effects of shorter duration. (v) In order to answer the question why some children do badly and others well after measles, studies on the HLA frequencies and measles antigen load have been undertaken in children with severe lymphopenia. Results of viral load are inconclusive and those of HLA suggest a trend towards histocompatibility linked genetic susceptibility to the development of severe lymphopenia in measles associated with HLA AW32. The therapeutic implication of these studies is that children with measles who are at risk for death and chronic disease can be identified early in the disease and intervention at this stage may reverse the severe immunosuppression which leads to rapid demise or modify the immunopathological changes progressing relentlessly in some cases to permanent lung and brain damage and occasionally to death.


Thesis (MD)-University of Natal, Durban, 1977.


Measles., Measles--Immunological aspects., Children--Diseases--Immunological aspects., Theses--Paediatrics and child health.