Measles and This Little-Known Thing Called SSPE: Why You Should Vaccinate

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The California measles outbreak of 2015 prompted many discussions around the need for parents to have their kids vaccinated. The CDC reported 145 measles cases from the California outbreak, with researchers pointing to “under-vaccination” as the cause for the spread. They found that only 50% of people exposed to the measles during that time period were vaccinated.

If you’re a parent who has ever doubted the benefits of vaccinations, this news and recent evidence surrounding a neurological condition called SSPE may change your mind. The measles virus has been linked to 145,000 deaths worldwide in the year 2013 alone. Now, the medical community is investigating possible treatments for a devastating disorder associated with measles that many people have not heard about.

What You Should Know About SSPE and Measles

What does SSPE stand for?

SSPE is the acronym for a condition called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis.

What is SSPE Disease?  What Causes SSPE Disease?

SSPE results from a natural (wild) measles virus infection. It is rare neurological complication; one of a few complications from the measles virus. The virus lies dormant in brain cells for about seven to ten years. The condition may eventually develop when the infected cells are triggered by an inflammatory response causing a progressive degeneration of the central nervous system. Children younger than 2 years old who have had primary measles infection are at higher risk.

What are the symptoms of SSPE?

In the earlier stages, people infected with SSPE will notice subtle mental changes such as memory loss and irritability. As the disease progresses, they may have seizures and disturbances in motor function, such as involuntary movements of the head and limbs called myoclonic jerks. In advanced stages of the disease, some become blind. As muscles begin to stiffen, they may lose the ability to walk. More complex cases lead to a comatose or vegetative state.

Is SSPE curable?

Although there have been a few reports of remission following treatment by medication, there is no cure for SSPE. SSPE is a progressive form of encephalitis and most people infected die within 5 years. Death usually results from fever, heart failure, or the brain no longer being able to sustain the autonomic nervous system.

How to Prevent Measles and SSPE

The best way to reduce your risk of SSPE is to have your child vaccinated. One dose of Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine (MMR) is about 93% effective at preventing measles if exposed to the virus, and two doses are about 97% effective.

If you think you or your child has symptoms of the measles like a rash, high fever and red, watery eyes, make sure you let the doctor’s office or local ER center know immediately upon arrival so they can put precautions in place to prevent spreading the virus.

To learn more about Measles and its prevention, click this link