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BACKGROUND: The pathogenesis of acute measles encephalitis (AME) is poorly understood. Treatment with immune-modulators is based on theories that post-infectious autoimmune responses cause demyelination. The clinical course and immunological parameters of AME were examined during an outbreak in Vietnam. METHODS AND FINDINGS: Fifteen measles IgM-positive patients with confusion or Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score below 13, and thirteen with uncomplicated measles were enrolled from 2008-2010. Standardized clinical exams were performed and blood collected for lymphocyte and measles- and auto-antibody analysis. The median age of AME patients was 21 years, similar to controls. Eleven reported receiving measles vaccination when aged one year. Confusion developed a median of 4 days after rash. Six patients had GCS <8 and four required mechanical ventilation. CSF showed pleocytosis (64%) and proteinorrhachia (71%) but measles virus RNA was not detected. MRI revealed bilateral lesions in the cerebellum and brain stem in some patients. Most received dexamethasone +/- IVIG within 4 days of admission but symptoms persisted for ≥3 weeks in five. The concentration of voltage gated calcium channel-complex-reactive antibodies was 900 pM in one patient, and declined to 609 pM ∼ 3 months later. Measles-reactive IgG antibody avidity was high in AME patients born after vaccine coverage exceeded 50% (∼ 25 years earlier). AME patients had low CD4 (218/µl, p = 0.029) and CD8 (200/µl, p = 0.012) T-cell counts compared to controls. CONCLUSION: Young adults presenting with AME in Vietnam reported a history of one prior measles immunization, and those aged <25 years had high measles-reactive IgG avidity indicative of prior vaccination. This suggests that one-dose measles immunization is not sufficient to prevent AME in young adults and reinforces the importance of maintaining high coverage with a two-dose measles immunization schedule. Treatment with corticosteroids and IVIG is common practice, and should be assessed in randomized clinical trials.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Acute Disease, Adult, Brain, Case-Control Studies, Disease Progression, Encephalitis, Female, Humans, Lymphocyte Count, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Measles, Measles Vaccine, Treatment Outcome, Vaccination, Young Adult