Effect of subclinical infection on maintaining immunity against measles in vaccinated children in West Africa.
Lancet. 1999 Jan 9 ;353(9147):98-102. PMID: 10023894
MRC Laboratories, Fajara, Banjul, The Gambia. firstname.lastname@example.org
BACKGROUND: Despite a high coverage with measles vaccines in parts of west Africa, epidemics of measles occur with reduced severity in an increasing proportion of older children who have been vaccinated. We examined the effect of exposure to natural measles on immunity in vaccinated children.
METHODS: Our study was carried out in 1992 during an epidemic of measles in Niakhar, a rural area of Senegal with about 27,000 inhabitants who mostly live in compounds that include several households; within each household people live in different huts. Vaccine coverage in Niakhar was 81% at the time of our study. We measured haemagglutinin-inhibiting antibody at exposure and twice thereafter (after 4-5 weeks and at 6 months) in 36 vaccinated and 87 unvaccinated children. The frequency of measles and subclinical measles--defined as a four-fold or greater rise in antibody titre without clinical signs or symptoms--was related to intensity of exposure according to whether the index case was in the same hut, household, or compound.
FINDINGS: Clinical measles occurred in 20 (56%) of 36 unvaccinated children and in one (1%) of 87 vaccinated children. Subclinical measles occurred in 39 (45%) of 86 vaccinated children who were exposed to measles and in four (25%) of 16 unvaccinated children. The frequency was inversely related to pre-exposure antibody concentration (p<0.001 for trend) and directly related to intensity of exposure (p=0.002 for trend). Antibody concentrations in subclinical cases increased on average by 45-fold and remained raised for at least 6 months.
INTERPRETATION: Increased antibody titre after subclinical measles may be common in vaccinated children in West Africa where the intensity of exposure is high. As measles vaccination coverage increases, the circulation of wild measles will decrease, and vaccine-induced antibody is less likely to be boosted. Thus, new epidemics, albeit milder in form, may occur in vaccinated areas which should be recognised in campaigns to eradicate measles.