Between 1971 and 1989 measles encephalitis was identified in five children receiving chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Review of these and previously reported cases of measles encephalitis in immunosuppressed patients failed to identify any pathognomonic features in the history, the clinical presentation, or the results of electroencephalography or computed tomography. Detection of measles virus antigen in nasopharyngeal secretions or intrathecal synthesis of specific antibody was not possible in all instances. Early diagnosis by direct detection of viral antigen in the brain was confounded by difficulties in identifying areas of the brain suitable for biopsy. Increasing herd immunity to measles in the general population by vaccination is the only effective intervention against measles encephalitis in immunosuppressed children. Measles encephalitis must be remembered as a possible explanation of encephalopathy in the immunocompromised child: the benefits of early use of antiviral agents need to be evaluated.
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