Measles vaccination and inflammatory bowel disease: controversy laid to rest?

Drug Saf. 2001;24(13):939-46. doi: 10.2165/00002018-200124130-00001.


The increasing incidence of Crohn's disease has lead to speculation about changes in exposures to environmental or infectious agents. Considerable attention has focused on the role of measles infection and/or vaccination in the pathogenesis of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Current evidence regarding the association between measles vaccination and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) comprises analytic epidemiological studies, a case-series report and ecological studies. The first of these, a 1995 cohort study, found an association between measles vaccination and Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, but was widely questioned on methodological grounds. This was followed by a 1997 case-control study showing no association between measles vaccination and IBD. In 1998, public concern was rekindled by a report of 12 children with nonspecific colitis, ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, and developmental disorders largely attributed to measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, but the nature of the report limited its scientific conclusions. Two additional studies, one case-control and one cohort, then followed and neither found an association with measles vaccination. Of the several ecological studies of measles vaccine coverage or measles schedule changes, none found an association with rates of IBD. The role of measles infection in IBD has been examined more extensively with studies of in utero measles exposure, measles infection early in life, and laboratory based investigations. An initial report of high rates of Crohn's disease among pregnancies affected by measles infection was followed by negative studies. Numerous case-control and ecological studies of children with measles infections early in life have also had discordant findings. Of three recent cohort studies, two showed no relationship between infection with early measles exposure and risk for IBD, while one found an approximate 3-fold elevation in risk. Laboratory investigations into persistent measles infection and IBD have been contentious. While some investigators have claimed to find persistent measles infection among patients with IBD, others, using highly sensitive polymerase chain reaction techniques, have not been able to replicate the findings. Recent controversy has centred on whether there is any evidence for molecular mimicry in the pathogenesis of IBD. In summary, available evidence does not support an association between measles-containing vaccines and risk of IBD, nor between measles infection and IBD. While further research is necessary into the causal factors underlying Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, continued public education efforts are needed to reassure the public about vaccine safety and to prevent declines in vaccine coverage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / epidemiology
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / etiology*
  • Measles Vaccine / adverse effects*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Vaccination / adverse effects*


  • Measles Vaccine