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Int J Epidemiol. 1999 Feb;28(1):147-51.

Seroconversions in unvaccinated infants: further evidence for subclinical measles from vaccine trials in Niakhar, Senegal.

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  • 1The Task Force for Child Survival and Development, The Carter Center, Atlanta, GA 30307, USA.



Increases in measles antibodies without rash-illnesses have been documented in previously vaccinated children exposed to measles cases. The phenomenon has been incompletely evaluated in young unvaccinated infants with immunity of maternal origin.


Monthly cohorts of newborns were prospectively randomized to vaccine and placebo control groups during a trial of high-titre vaccines in Niakhar, Senegal. Measles antibodies were assayed in blood samples of enrolled children collected at 5 months old, when controls received a placebo injection, and at 10 months, when the placebo group was given measles vaccine. Intensive prospective surveillance for measles was conducted throughout the trial.


One-fifth (n = 53) of the placebo controls seroconverted, with known exposure to a measles case in only three of them. None of the seroconverters developed a measles-like rash. Sixteen-fold or greater increases in titres were noted in about one-quarter of them. Compared with placebo controls who did not seroconvert, seroconverters were more likely to have had exposure to a measles case and to travel, more likely to be boys than girls, and had significantly lower baseline antibody titres. Measles was endemic in the study area throughout the trial. Seroconversions did not adversely effect subsequent nutritional indices or mortality.


Although laboratory errors and inadvertent injection of vaccine rather than placebo may have played some role, they do not fully explain the above observations, which are consistent with subclinical measles in the seroconverters. The possible role of subclinical measles in occult transmission, its potential effect on the type and duration of subsequent immunity, and its impact on response to primary vaccination need to be determined.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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