Study: Fatal measles complication more common than thought

New research shows that subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a fatal complication of measles in young children, may be more common than previously realized. The risk of acquiring SSPE—a deadly neurological disorder that strikes years after infection—had been thought to be about 1 in 1,700, based on earlier research from Germany.

New research shows that subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a fatal complication of measles in young children, may be more common than previously realized. The risk of acquiring SSPE—a deadly neurological disorder that strikes years after infection—had been thought to be about 1 in 1,700, based on earlier research from Germany. However, a new study that looked at children who contracted measles during a large California outbreak around 1990 found the rate of SSPE to be 1 in 1,387 for those infected before aged 5 years, with the rate rising to about 1 in 600 for babies infected before age 1 year. James Cherry, MD, a research professor in pediatric infectious diseases at UCLA, who was part of the study team, said that one solution is good public health. "You need to vaccinate everybody and create herd immunity so that you protect those most vulnerable to measles and those at greatest risk of SSPE," he said. The average age of SSPE diagnosis was aged 12 years; however, patients' ages ranged from 3–35 years. The researchers said they hope the findings raise alarms for parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated, and they also cautioned parents about traveling with unvaccinated children to countries where measles is endemic. The findings were presented at ID Week in New Orleans.