Dawson Disease

What is Dawson Disease?

Dawson Disease, also known as Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), is a progressive neurological disorder. It is caused by a chronic persistent infection with measles virus that affects the central nervous system. The measles virus may remain inactive and dormant for extended time periods, and then may become activate for no specific reason. It causes brain inflammation and the death of nerve cells, and usually affects children and young adults. If untreated, Dawson disease can lead to death. Therefore, immediate medical attention is necessary as soon as the first sign of symptoms appear. Dawson disease can occur anywhere from 2 to 10 years after the original measles illness. In developing countries, such as India, 20 cases per year in a million are reported.


The symptoms of Dawson Disease include:

  • Irritability.
  • Uncontrolled and involuntary movements.
  • Display of abnormal behaviour.
  • Loss or reduction in intellectual abilities.
  • Loss of memory and muteness.
  • Seizures.
  • Inability to walk and loss of balance.
  • Poor understanding and speech impairment.
  • Blindness.
  • Loss of consciousness.



It is mainly caused by a measles infection acquired earlier in life. It may be due to an abnormal immune response or a mutant form of the measles virus that causes a persistent infection within the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).




It affects males more often than females and is generally diagnosed in children and adolescents. The risk of developing Dawson disease may be higher for a person who gets measles before they are two years of age.

  • Few of the main risk factors of this disease include:
  • Poor immune system.
  • Constant infection within the brain and spinal cord.



Timely vaccination is the most effective prevention. An immunization avoids the chances of contracting measles. The measles vaccine is given twice, once at the age of 12-15 months, and again at the age of 4-6 years or 11-12 years.

How is it diagnosed?

At Medanta, before any tests are conducted, the doctor tries to understand the symptoms and the medical history. A physical examination and questions related to general health will help the doctor ...

How is it treated?

The treatment for Dawson disease can only be outlined after due diagnosis. The treatment also depends on the seriousness of the disease. At Medanta, the common treatments include:


  • Medication

    It will help reduce symptoms and stabilize the condition. Certain medications may be administered to delay the progression of the disease.


  • Supportive therapy

    Along with medication, supportive therapy may be suggested. Feeding through tubes and extensive nursing care may be required at this stage. Advanced stage of Dawson disease can affect normal functioning and everyday tasks. It is important to understand the specific needs, and help the person become healthy.

When do I contact the doctor?

You should immediately consult a doctor, if your child manifests symptoms such as irritability, seizures, poor understanding, and speech impairment. All these symptoms are going to be treated just right with the help of our medical expertise at Medanta. 

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