Six-year old girl from Bavaria has contracted incurable measles encephalitis

In the district of Aschaffenburg  a six-year-old has contracted chronic measles encephalitis - the so-called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis – SSPE for short . The child had been infected as an infant at the age of 7 months with measles. After five years, the dreaded late symptons of the measles disease, chronic encephalitis, appeared. Gina R, the mother of Angelina and another younger daughter, stated the following; "In February of this year, we noticed significant abnormalities in our daughter. She often fell off the bike and had veritable speech impediment. When these reactions became more and more drastic, we went to the clinic. The diagnosis of SSPE came as a shock to us. Within only 8 weeks our child became an invalid. She can neither walk nor talk and, meanwhile  has to be fed artificially. Actually she was supposed to start school this year. This terrible blow has been very difficult for all of us ". The family is expecting another child soon.  SSPE is still considered incurable and there is no therapy. "The course of this disease is not predictable. The first measles infection and the onset of SSPE may take between 5 to 8 years. However, we know of cases also where the disease has appeared much earlier. The measles viruses settle unnoticed in the brains of those  patients affected during the first disease and begin to multiply only years later, when they start destroying the nerve cells. This process often proceeds intermittently and leads to real holes in the brain. Unfortunately, so far, we have not been able stop this cycle of viral propagation. From what we know, SSPE always ends fatally”, Dr. Martin Terhardt of the Professional Association of Child and Adolescent Physicians in Germany (BVKJ) explained.

Infants particularly vulnerable

The risk of developing this long-term consequence of measles appears to be particularly high if children as infants  come into contact with the measles virus – i.e. in the first year of life. At the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Berlin, it has, so far, been assumed that SSPE can occur in about 1 out of 5.000 measles infections in the first year of life. However, as a result of the new case in Aschaffenburg experts suspect that chronic measles encephalitis is significantly underestimated, since the disease of another child infected in 2006 before little Angelina has now been confirmed as  SSPE (see also http://www.kinderaerzte-im-netz.de/bvkj/aktuelles1/show.php3?id=3444&nodeid=26&nodeid=26&query=sspe )
Dr. Terhardt, who is also a member of the Standing Vaccination Committee (STIKO) at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) stated the following:
"The special aspect about these two cases is that the infections occurred within the period after the introduction of duty of notification for infectious diseases in Germany in 2001. For the whole year of 2006, 313 measles infections in the first year of life were reported to the RKI. And from these infections two SSPE cases have already developed. Even if it is assumed that in 2006 there were also a number of unreported cases, we must now assume that the risk of SSPE after an infection in the first year of life is much higher than we previously thought”. And there are also other indications of the incidence of SSPE in Germany. For example, 27 cases of death resulting from a diagnosis of SSPE were recorded by the Federal Statistical Office from 2005 to 2010. And even with another child who had been infected in 2006 at the age of 5 months with measles, a rapid-onset form of SSPE was diagnosed. The child died in the spring of 2007. With reference to the outbreak in Germany in 2006, we must now assume an incidence of at least 1:200. In plain English: the risk of death for infants who become infected with measles in their first year of life, is very high, due to the late sequelae of this disease. However, according to approvals governing the use of vaccines in Germany, children can be vaccinated only as of the age of 11 months.

Vaccination as a Social Responsibility

Dr. Terhardt continues:" STIKO recommends a double vaccination against measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox in the second year. Infants aged 9 to 11 months can be vaccinated only in exceptional cases. The children cannot protect themselves and therefore depend on all the contact persons being immune to measles.” An idea which scares those concerned. Gina R., who is expecting her third child said the following:
"I can’t lock my baby up at home and avoid contact with other people. We suspect that the infection could have occurred at a the time when our daughter was travelling on public transport. It must be possible in a country like Germany to protect the weakest members of society from such a deadly disease. I cannot understand, for example, that unvaccinated children can be allowed to attend a day nursery or a kindergarten. There should be complete obligatory vaccination for support staff working there as a mandatory requirement for employment. But that's not the case virtually anywhere in Germany".
And even immunization experts recommend protective vaccination especially for adults. "We know that many of today's 15 - to 40-year-olds do not have immunity against measles or have an unclear vaccination condition. Therefore STIKO recommends vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) for all those born after 1970. Anyone who desires to have children or has friends or acquaintances or a family with a new-born child, should be aware of his or her responsibility for the children and visit the doctor for immediate vaccination. And in medical practices, as well, MMR vaccination should rapidly become routine so as to close the large vaccination gap among young adults and young people as fast as possible. Anyone who is uncertain, can also contact our associationvia facebook, " Dr. Martin Terhardt states with reference to the new service provided by the BVKJ under www.facebook.de/jugendaerzte.

For more tips on the topic of "measles" click onto the website of the Professional Association of Child and Adolescent Physicians www.kinderaerzte-im-netz.de


  • Dr. Ulrich Fegeler, spokesman for the Federal Professional Association of Child and Adolescent Physicians (BVKJ), Tel: 030-3626041 (practice in Berlin)
  • Dr. Martin Terhardt, Committee for the Prevention and Early Treatment of the Professional Association of Child and Adolescent Physicians (BVKJ), a member of the Standing Vaccination Committee (STIKO), Tel: 02102-25061 practice in Dusseldorf-Ratingen), cell phone: 0172/293 41 49
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