Measles outbreaks linked to Crohn's

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PEOPLE born during or just after a measles epidemic are at greater risk of developing the inflammatory bowel condition Crohn's disease, according to a study, writes Liz Hunt.

The research provides further evidence of a link between Crohn's and the measles virus and shows that babies are particularly vulnerable to exposure around the time of their birth.

Doctors from the University Hospital in Uppsala, Sweden, and the Royal Free Hospital, London, studied people born in four counties in central Sweden between 1945 and 1954 who developed Crohn's before the age of 30.

They then identified five measles epidemics which had occurred during the nine-year period. The epidemics peaked in March 1947, February 1948, April 1949, June 1951, and January 1952.

According to a report in tomorrow's issue of the Lancet, a 'significant excess' of Crohn's disease was found in people born during or just after a measles epidemic.

A total of 660 people in the area had inflammatory bowel disease, and 300 (45 per cent) of them had Crohn's. Fifty-seven of these cases occurred after the measles epidemic. Only 39 would have been expected.

The study concludes that pregnant women can have a subclinical infection - the virus is present in their blood but they have no symptoms - and this could affect the foetus.