Childhood measles has been linked to an increased risk of developing chronic lung disease, but only in adults with asthma and a history of smoking.
An Australian study of more than 8000 Tasmanians found childhood measles infection – a highly contagious respiratory infection – appears to compound the associations between smoking, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in adults.
The researchers believe it may be possible that airway damage from childhood measles predisposes an individual to asthma-like symptoms and increased susceptibility to airway obstruction if they also smoked.
“While we have found measles to not have an effect by itself, our findings suggest it could contribute to COPD when combined with significant asthma and smoking histories,” said lead author Dr Jennifer Perret at University of Melbourne.
“Our research has uncovered childhood measles to be a potential predisposing factor for COPD risk and supports the public health recommendation of childhood immunisation,” said Dr Perret.
Not smoking, however, is the most important message, noted Dr Perret.
For the study, published in journal Respirology, researchers used the Tasmanian Longitudinal Health Study (TAHS) cohort born in 1961. A history of childhood measles infection was obtained from school medical records.
Differences between asthma, smoking and measles subgroups provided further insight into the complex causes of obstructive lung diseases for middle-aged adults, said Dr Perret.
About 25 per cent of smokers developed COPD, and up to 20 per cent of COPD cases involve people who have not smoked. Other known risk factors, such as occupational exposures and second-hand tobacco smoke, did not explain the excess risk.