Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis
(SSPE; Dawson Disease)
Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) is a condition that affects the brain and spine. It is a gradual break down of nerve cells from constant swelling.
When left untreated, SSPE almost always leads to death. Contact your doctor right away if you think you or your child may have this condition.
Central Nervous System
SSPE is caused either by an altered form of the measles virus or an abnormal immune response to measles. It occurs anywhere from 2-10 years after contracting measles.
Factors that may increase the risk of SSPE include:
- Age: 5-15 years old
- Gender: male
- Measles infection in infancy
- Not being vaccinated against measles
- Arabs and Sephardic Jews have an incidence that is six times higher than Ashkenazi Jews.
- Caucasians have a four-fold higher incidence than African Americans in the United States.
Symptoms of SSPE may include:
- Abnormal behavior
- Loss of intellectual abilities
- Memory loss
- Involuntary movements
- Inability to walk
- Speech impairment with poor understanding
- Difficulty swallowing
- Loss of consciousness
Your doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
Images may need to be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan. Treatment options include:
The best way to prevent SSPE is to get immunized to avoid contracting measles. The measles vaccine is generally given at 12-15 months of age and again at 4-6 or 11-12 years. If you have not been vaccinated, avoid contact with people who are infected with measles until all of their symptoms are gone.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Canadian Neurological Sciences Federation
Public Health Agency of Canada
Campbell H, Andrews N, Brown KE, Miller E. Review of the effect of measles vaccination on the epidemiology of SSPE. Int. J. Epidemiol. 2007;36:1134-48.
Complications of measles. Center for Disease Control (CDC) website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/complications.html. Updated October 23, 2012. Accessed May 20, 2013.
Measles. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 4, 2013. Accessed May 20, 2013.
Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/subacute_panencephalitis/subacute_panencephalitis.htm. Updated February 16, 2011. Accessed May 20, 2013.
Last reviewed March 2014 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.