Nervous System Home > Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis

An altered form of the measles virus is what causes subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, which is a chronic infection of the central nervous system. Children and young adults are most commonly affected by it, and this condition usually results in death within a few years. Since the widespread use of the measles vaccine, however, this disease has become rare in the United States.

What Is Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis?

Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis is a chronic, persistent infection of the central nervous system caused by an altered form of the measles virus.
Primarily affecting children and young adults, this condition usually has a progressive downward course, which, for most people, results in death within a few years; however, some cases of spontaneous remission (up to 5 percent) have been reported.
Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis can occur anywhere from 2 to 10 years after the original measles illness. Generally, it results in progressive neurological deterioration due to brain inflammation and nerve cell death.
Since the widespread use of the measles vaccine, subacute sclerosing panencephalitis has become quite rare. However, studies have shown that the incidence of the disease has remained high in the Middle East and India.

Symptoms of Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis

Initial signs and symptoms of subacute sclerosing panencephalitis usually include:
  • Abnormal behavior
  • Irritability
  • Intellectual deterioration
  • Memory loss
  • Involuntary movements
  • Seizures (in the form of myoclonic spasms).
As a result, the affected person can develop:
  • Further mental deterioration
  • Inability to walk
  • Speech impairment with poor comprehension
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).
  • Blindness.
In the final stages of subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, the person may remain mute or comatose.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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