A new US study has shown that a fatal complication affecting non-vaccinated infants who get measles may be more common than we thought.
Researchers from the University of California and the California Department of Public Health have found that up to one in 600 infants with measles may be affected.
The condition, called Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), is a neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system. It usually occurs many years after being infected, and is caused by an abnormal immune response to or defective forms of the measles virus. Affected people usually experience seizures, muscle spasms, and behavioural changes, leading to a comatose state and eventually death, as it is currently incurable.
The study used a relatively small scope of data, meaning the results may not be as drastic in the rest of the world. However, it further highlights the need for the measles vaccination.
Measles is so contagious that 95 per cent of the population must be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity – a state in which a large number of vaccinated individuals provide protection from a disease for those who cannot be vaccinated.
Since the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was first introduced in the UK in 1988, there has been a massive decrease in measles cases. However, in recent years contraction rates of measles are on the rise, due to falling vaccination rates.
In 1998, 10 years after the introduction of the MMR vaccine, Dr Andrew Wakefield published a paper in The Lancet claiming that the vaccine causes autism. His claims have since been proven false, but they led to a widespread decrease in vaccinations in the 2000s and several outbreaks of the disease across the UK.
The first half of 2016 also saw more than four times the reported number of cases than the first half of 2015.
Measles is a highly contagious illness that is a major cause of death globally. With recent research into SSPE it is even clearer that vaccination is extremely important. We cannot let ourselves become complacent in the fight against measles.