Approximately 30% of cases of measles have an associated complication. These complications can include diarrhea (8%), ear infections (7%), pneumonia (6%), blindness (1%), acute brain inflammation (encephalitis) (0.1%), and persistent brain inflammation (subacute sclerosing panencephalitis) (0.0001%).
Blindness associated with measles is due to a combination of poor nutrition (specifically vitamin A deficiency) and the measles infection. Prevention is the most effective treatment. In third-world countries, post-measles blindness is the leading cause of blindness, with up to 60,000 cases occurring annually.
Acute encephalitis, although rare, is extremely dangerous and results in death in approximately 15% of patients who develop it. When it occurs, acute encephalitis generally starts six days after onset of the rash. Symptoms can include fever, headache, vomiting, stiff neck, drowsiness, seizures, and coma.
Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSP) is an extremely rare degenerative condition of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). It is believed to be caused by a chronic infection of the central nervous system with the measles virus. Typically, symptoms start years after the patient had measles (average seven years, range one month to 27 years). The patient has a slow and progressive loss of brain function, seizures, and eventually death results. There is no known treatment for SSP.
Most deaths from measles are due to pneumonia in children and encephalitis in adults. There are approximately 2.2 deaths per 1,000 people who get the measles. The people most likely to have complications (including death) are those who are malnourished or who have weakened immune systems (for example, people with AIDS or other conditions that weaken the immune system).
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