Adult-onset subacute sclerosing panencephalitis

Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) is a lethal slow viral disease of the central nervous system caused by a defective measles virus. The onset is mostly in childhood, manifesting clinically as decline in academic performance, behavioural changes, motor dysfunction and myoclonus. Adult-onset SSPE is rare and can present as rapidly progressive dementia. We present a young man of Indian origin with adult-onset SSPE with rapidly progressive dementia but no localising neurological signs. The diagnostic clues were parieto-occipital white matter changes on MR brain scan and history of childhood fever with rash. High titres of antimeasles antibody in cerebrospinal fluid confirmed the diagnosis. The long latency from primary measles virus infection to symptom onset can be misleading in adults. SSPE should be considered in adults with dementia, especially in tropical countries where vaccination coverage is suboptimal.

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