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Measles encephalitis

Last reviewed dd mmm yyyy. Last edited dd mmm yyyy

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There are different forms of measles encephalitis which occur at different times in relation to the onset of rash:

  • post-infectious encephalomyelitis occurs at around one week after onset of the rash
    • infectious virus is rarely found in the brain
    • condition is associated with demyelination and is thought to have an auto-immune basis
  • acute measles encephalitis of the delayed type occurs in immunocompromised patients
    • may occur without a preceding measles-like illness although there may be a history of exposure to measles several weeks or months previously
    • characterised by acute neurological compromise and deterioration of consciousness, seizures and progressive neurological damage
  • subacute sclerosing pancencephalitis
    • a rare, fatal, late complication of measles infection. One case of SSPE occurs for every 25,000 measles infections
    • in children infected under the age of two, the rate is one in 8000 infections
    • developing measles under one year of age carries a risk of SSPE 16 times greater than in those infected over five years of age
    • median interval from measles infection to onset of symptoms is around seven years but may be as long as two to three decades
    • SSPE may follow an unrecognised measles infection. Wild measles virus has been found in the brain of SSPE cases including those with no history of measles disease


  1. Immunisation Against Infectious Disease - "The Green Book".Chapter 21 Measles (August 2006)

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