Study unveils alarming link: Measles virus mutates over years, resulting in deadly brain disease

Rashes due to Measles
Rashes due to Measles

United States: The threat related to the surge in cases of Measles, an incredibly contagious disease, has been increasing among the health authorities of the United States. Presently, the worries have increased because the health authorities have been reporting cases involving a fatal brain disease caused by the virus–causing measles.

According to the reports by the Mayo Clinic researchers, the virus takes years to mutate and causes fatal brain illness. The health authorities cited that a child gets infected with measles as a child, and then within years, the virus migrates to the brain, leading to fatal brain illness.

The research was conducted by a virologist at the Mayo Clinic – Roberto Cattaneo. Through research, he mentioned, “Our study provides compelling data that shows how viral RNA mutated and spread throughout a human organ – the brain, in this case.”

The research conducted by Cattaneo and his team further elaborated that the prime target of the measles virus is the respiratory tract, but with time, it starts migrating throughout the body years after the illness is over, according to reports by HealthDay News.

The study further concluded that the virus takes around ten (10) years to make its way to the brain, where its mutation begins.

According to the researchers, the disease caused by a virus is named subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE). The official data revealed that the brain disease can be reported in approximately one (1) in every 10,000 measles cases.

The beginning of SSPE can be marked by health issues such as mobility issues, memory impairments, and seizures.

A person who died at SSPE

While conducting the study, the team, led by Cattaneo, researched the brain of the person who lost his life to the disease. Accordingly, the researchers took the genetics of the tissues from 15 different regions of the brain.

Visual Representation for brain illness | Credits: Getty Images

A detailed study of the brain revealed that the genome of the virus ‘appears to begin to alter in dangerous ways’ once it reaches the brain, according to HealthDay. The lead researcher, Cattaneo, further explained, through a news release, “This happened over and over in this patient, and two specific genomes had a combination of characteristics that worked together to promote virus spread from the initial location of the infection — the frontal cortex of the brain — out to colonize the entire organ.”

Can the measles vaccine act against SSPE?

Several reports had underlined that earlier, when the vaccination rate against measles was high, SSPE was not a threat, but during COVID-19 pandemic when the measles vaccines were not majorly injected, the cases increased up to 18 percent.

Vaccine against measles (mumps and rubella) | Credits: Reuters

While elaborating on the surge in deaths because of the measles virus, the data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uncovered that the number of people dying rose by 43 percent from 2021 to 2022 – following which vaccination rates increased again.

Another co-lead of the study, Iris Yousaf, suspected that “SSPE cases will rise again as well” for years now. “This is sad because this horrible disease can be prevented by vaccination,” added Yousaf.

She furthermore continued that at least now, “we are in the position to study SSPE with modern, genetic sequencing technology and learn more about it.”

Yousaf is a fifth-year graduate student at the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, according to HealthDay.