A fatal measles complication is more common than previously thought, according to a new study.
Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a fatal complication of measles, was previously thought to occur in around one in 1,700 people infected by measles.
But new research shows the rate of SSPE to be one in 1,387 for those infected before the age of five and one in just 600 for babies infected before their first birthday.
The neurological condition that leads to inflammation of the brain was previously considered very rare as a result of the decrease in measles cases due to widescale MMR vaccinations.
Measles commonly causes cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose, high temperature, cough, red eyes, sore throat and a distinctive blotchy rash.
The virus has usually left the body within two weeks but in rare cases it lies dormant in the brain for years.
If the virus reactivates the result can be SSPE which leads to memory loss, mood changes, muscle spasms, occasional blindness and sometimes the patient will become comatose.
Patients with SSPE die as a result of fever, heart failure, or the brain’s inability to control vital organs.
Scientists at the University of California, who carried out the study on children who had measles during an outbreak in California around 1990 over an 18-year period, are reportedly alarmed at the discovery.
They stressed that the only certain way to avoid SSPE is universal vaccination. If enough of the population was immunised the spread of measles would be contained enough to protect those who are too young to have the vaccine.
To protect children who are too young to have the vaccine parents should avoid travelling to endemic areas.
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