Can Measles Cause Injury and/or Death?
Complications from measles are usually most frequent among children under 5 and adults over 20. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that approximately 30 percent of all reported measles cases result in at least one complication. 1
The most frequently reported complications are diarrhea, ear infection, and pneumonia.2 Additional measles complications can include bronchitis, croup, seizures, appendicitis, hepatitis, inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis), thrombocytopenia, encephalitis, and rarely death. 3 4 5 Measles during pregnancy may result in miscarriage, premature, or low-birth-weight baby.6
Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a rare but fatal progressive central nervous system disorder, may also occur after a measles.7 SSPE is believed to be the result of a persistent measles infection of the brain. Signs of SSPE include personality changes, sleep disturbances, distractibility, gradual onset of mental deterioration, muscle spasms, and an elevated anti-measles antibody of the blood and cerebrospinal fluid.8 SSPE usually occurs an average of 7 years after a measles infection, (range – 1 month to 27 years). It is believed to occur in the U.S. in 5-10 cases per million reported measles infections.9
In developing countries, measles is one of the leading causes of death in children. In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) attributed 110,000 deaths to measles infection, with most deaths occurring in children under age 5. In these countries, serious malnutrition, vitamin A deficiency and immunosuppressive diseases such as HIV/AIDS often lead to more severe cases of measles and a higher death rates.10
Measles is rarely fatal in the United States, and historically, measles-related deaths have been reported in only 1 out of 10,000 cases. 11 12 The last measles-related death in the United States was reported in 2015.13 In this case, that death occurred in an immunocompromised woman who was previously vaccinated for measles. Initially, her death was reported to be related to pneumonia; however, on autopsy, the measles virus was isolated, which prompted a revision to her cause of death.14 15
While measles infection occasionally causes injury and/or death, recovery from measles may improve one’s health.
In published medical literature, recovery from measles has been shown to improve health outcomes of persons with kidney disease and nephrotic syndrome.16 17 18 19 Remission of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, 20 21 22 and psoriasis23 have also been documented after recovery from measles. A positive history of measles infection prior to college was found to reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease..24 Additionally, a case study published in the British Medical Journal reported remission of Hodgkin’s disease and the complete disappearance of a cervical tumor on recovery from measles.25 In 2015, Japanese researchers reported that a positive history of measles and mumps decreased a person’s risk of death from cardiovascular disease.26
IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Measles and the Measles vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents , which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.
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1 CDC Measles – Complications. Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (The Pink Book). 13th ed. 2015.
3 Perry RT, Halsey NA. The Clinical Significance of Measles: A Review. J Infect Dis. 2004 May 1;189 Suppl 1:S4-16
4 Mayo Clinic Measles May 24, 2019
5 Institute of Medicine Committee to Review Adverse Effects of Vaccines. Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality. (Evaluating Biological Mechanisms for Adverse Events: Increased Susceptibility). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 2012. Chap. 4 (103-238)
6 CDC Measles – Complications. Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (The Pink Book). 13th ed. 2015.
7 CDC Measles (Rubeola). Complications of Measles. Jun. 13, 2019
8 Tesini BL, Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE) Merck Manual Professional Version. Jan 2018
9 CDC Measles – Complications. Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (The Pink Book). 13th ed. 2015.
10 WHO Measles May 9, 2019
11 US National Communicable Disease Center Immunization against disease 1966-67 – Measles Vaccine (p. 29-34) Bureau of Disease Prevention and Environmental Control, Atlanta, GA,
12 CDC SUPPLEMENT – Collected Recommendations of the Public Health Service Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices MMWR Oct. 25, 1969; 18(43) : 1-31
13 CDC Measles Data and Statistics. Feb. 16, 2018
14 Ford D Washington reports first U.S. measles death in 12 years CNN Jul. 2, 2015
15 Heimer M A Woman Died From Measles and I’m (Still) Not Getting Vaccinated The Vaccine Reaction July 4, 2015
16 Blumberg RW, Cassady HA. Effect of measles on the nephrotic syndrome. Am J Dis Child. 1947 Feb;73(2):151-66.
17 Rosenblum AH, Lander HB, Fisher RM Measles in the nephrotic syndrome Pediatrics Nov. 1949; 35(5) 574-584
18 Meizlik EH, Carpenter AM Beneficial effect of measles on nephrosis; report of three cases. Am J Dis Child. 1948 Jul;76(1):83-90.
19 Gairdner D A notable case of nephrosis. Arch Dis Child. 1978 May; 53(5): 363–365.
20 Lepore L, Agosti E, Pennesi M, et al. Long-term remission induced by measles infection and followed by immunosuppressive therapy in a case of refractory juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Pediatr Med Chir. 1988 Mar-Apr;10(2):191-3.
21 Urbach J, Schurr D, Abramov A. Prolonged remission of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (Still's disease) following measles. Acta Paediatr Scand. 1983 Nov;72(6):917-8.
22 Simpanen E, van Essen R, Isomäki H. Remission of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (Still's disease) after measles. Lancet. 1977 Nov 5;2(8045):987-8.
23 Chakravarti VS, Lingam S. Measles induced remission of psoriasis. Ann Trop Paediatr. 1986 Dec;6(4):293-4.
24 Sasco AJ, Paffenbarger RS Jr. Measles infection and Parkinson's disease. Am J Epidemiol. 1985 Dec; 122(6):1017-31.
25 Mota HC Infantile Hodgkin's disease: remission after measles. Br Med J. 1973 May 19; 2(5863): 421.
26 Kubota Y, Iso H, Tamakoshi A, the JACC Study Group Association of measles and mumps with cardiovascular disease: The Japan Collaborative Cohort (JACC) study Atherosclerosis 2015 Aug; 241(2): 682-686