Background: Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE) mainly affects children and young people. It is a rare, chronic progressive degenerative form of cerebral inflammation with various infectious noxa, which develops for years after a primary, uncomplicated infection, and the highest percentage can be caused by measles virus and in rare cases by rubella. The aim of the present study is to investigate in the laboratory the role of measles virus in the development of neurological symptoms and diseases of the CNS.
Methods: A total of 46 clinical materials (23 sera samples and 23 CSF) obtained from 23 patients with neurological symptoms and diagnoses: "SSPE” (in 10 patients) and "Encephalitis” (in 13 patients), in the period January 2011 - December 2020 were tested in the National Reference Laboratory (NRL) “Measles, mumps and rubella” at National Centre of Infectious and Parasitic Diseases (NCIPD), Sofia, Bulgaria. Serological (indirect ELISA test for the detection of specific measles IgG/IgM antibodies in serum samples and cerebrospinal fluid) and molecular (RT-PCR for the demonstration of viral RNA) methods were used.
Results: The study was performed by parallel testing of serum samples and CSF from each patient. Positive results for measles IgG antibodies in sera were found in 21 patients. Presence of measles IgG antibodies in CSF was demonstrated in four children with diagnosis SSPE (two children at 4 years, one child at 4 years and 6 months, and one at 11 years old). All children with positive laboratory results for SSPE had evidence of MeV infection before 2 years of age. The patients with SSPE had high antibody titers (CSF > 230 U/mL) in their CSF. Patients with positive anti-Measles IgG in the CSF were also found to have positive results for protective measles IgG in the serum samples and their IgG titers were nearly twice as high compared to other patients’ sera. The presence of specific measles IgM antibodies was not demonstrated in the tested specimens. RT-PCR test was performed for all samples, and the presence of viral RNA was not detected.
Conclusions: The measles infection can be a reason for developing serious complications affecting CNS in all age groups. SSPE itself is extremely difficult to diagnose, which is why laboratory confirmation of any clinical case is a necessary condition for effective disease surveillance.