Newborns without the HIV virus who have infected mothers need to be vaccinated immediately against measles, a new study says, in order to prevent the obtainment and transmission of the virus.

This study, published in Acta Paediatrica, has found that despite being born without HIV, babies born to infected mothers still have weakened protection against measles due to their mother’s positive HIV status.

Dr Lars Smedman from the Department of Pediatrics at Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden, says:

“The eradication of measles is high on the agendas of the World Health Organization and other international agencies and it is important to define and target any new group of susceptible infants.”

Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children, according to the World Health Organization. Problems associated with this extremely contagious disease include:

In 2010, 139,300 deaths were reported globally, which is roughly 380 per day, or 15 an hour. Before universal immunization, an estimated 2.6 million deaths per year were recorded in 1980.

Since 2000, immunizations have risen by 72 percent, and in 2010, by their first birthday, 85 percent of children around the world had at least one dose of a measles vaccine.

Dr. Smedman and his team compared blood serum samples from 10 babies, ranging in age from one to four months, who were born to HIV mothers, but had not contracted the infection, to 10 healthy babies with non infected mothers.

The mothers, who spanned from 25 to 35 years old, were all immigrants from Kenya, Thailand, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Ivory Coast. Their CD4 cell counts ranged from 237 to 754, and their viral loads ranged from under 20 up to 8,870.

Of these mothers, nine gave birth by planned or emergency caesarean, with just one vaginal birth. The gestational age of the babies spanned from 32 to 41 weeks.

Dr. Smedman explains:

“We used a new cell ELISA technique to demonstrate how the serum samples drawn from the infants would inactivate the measles virus. This found statistically significant differences between the maternal antibodies received by the two sets of babies and showed that the non-infected babies born to HIV positive mothers had weaker protection. This was because the antibodies normally produced by the mother to help protect her baby from measles had lost their sharp edge due to her HIV positive status.”

The conclusions suggest that babies born to HIV mothers would not have the capability to neutralize the measles virus as successfully, resulting in loss of protection at a higher rate than babies born to healthy mothers.

This puts this population of babies at a significantly higher risk of contracting and passing the measles virus, making their immunizations essential.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald