March 8, 2018
For most people, measles is a thing of the past, and parents don’t have to worry about their children suffering from the disease or its complications. Their lack of concern is the result of the measles vaccine. But some children – those too young to be vaccinated and those whose parents decide not to vaccinate them – are susceptible to potentially serious complications.
One fatal complication from the measles is subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE). Here are few facts:
• It only occurs in children who have the measles.
• It’s a progressive, debilitating disorder related to the measles virus.
• It’s 100% fatal.
• There is no cure.
• Children die one to two years after diagnosis.
• It occurs several years after the child has the measles.
• Those with SSPE appear to have made a full recovery from the measles.
• The average age of diagnosis is 12 years old, but it ranges from the age of three to 35.
The symptoms, which don’t appear for years after the infection, include:
• Bizarre behavior
• Dementia (loss of mental, emotional, and social abilities)
• Gradual behavioral changes
• Myoclonic jerking (quick muscle jerking or spasms)
• School problems
• Unsteady gait
• Very tense muscles or muscles that lack tone, with weakness in both legs
It is not known why some are susceptible to developing SSPE. One theory is that child who develop SSPE have an abnormal response to the measles virus. Another is that the virus may be a mutant form. In either case, the child develops brain swelling that may last for years.
A recent report from the California Department of Public Health determined that SSPE occurs in one of every 1,367 cases of measles in children under five years of age, and in one in every 609 children under age 12 at the time of the measles. During the study period (1198-2015), there were 17 cases reported. There’s no estimate of how many cases were not diagnosed properly. In no case had the afflicted child been immunized.
According to James D. Cherry, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of California, LA, and one of the authors of this study, “Parents of infants who have not yet been vaccinated should avoid putting their children at risk. For example, they should postpone trips overseas – including to Europe – where measles is endemic and epidemic until after their baby has been vaccinated with two doses,” he said. “It’s just not worth the risk.”
What can parents do to protect their children from SSPE and other complications of the measles? It’s simple – follow the recommended immunization schedule.
What if your child is too young to be immunized (under 15 months old) or has health reasons not to be immunized? Make sure your child stays away from anyone who has either not been immunized or currently has the measles.
Family Practice News, 11/02/16