Severe Measles Infection: The Spectrum of Disease in 36 Critically Ill Adult Patients

Medicine (Baltimore). 2013 Sep;92(5):257-272. doi: 10.1097/MD.0b013e3182a713c2.


France has recently witnessed a nationwide outbreak of measles. Data on severe forms of measles in adults are lacking. We sought to describe the epidemiologic, clinical, treatment, and prognostic aspects of the disease in adult patients who required admission to an intensive care unit (ICU). We performed a retrospective analysis of a cohort of 36 adults admitted to a total of 64 ICUs throughout France for complications of measles from January 1, 2009, to December 31, 2011. All cases of measles were confirmed by serologic testing and/or reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction.The cohort consisted of 21 male and 15 female patients, with a median age of 29.2 years (25th-75th interquartile range [IQR], 27.2-34.2 yr) and a median Simplified Acute Physiology Score (SAPS II) of 13 (IQR, 9-18). Among the 26 patients whose measles vaccination status was documented, none had received 2 injections. One patient had developed measles during childhood. Underlying comorbid conditions included chronic respiratory disease in 9 patients, immunosuppression in 7 patients, and obesity in 3 patients, while measles affected 5 pregnant women.Respiratory complications induced by measles infection led to ICU admission in 32 cases, and measles-related neurologic complications led to ICU admission in 2 cases. Two patients were admitted due to concurrent respiratory and neurologic complications.Bacterial superinfection of measles-related airway infection was suspected in 28 patients and was documented in 8. Four cases of community-acquired pneumonia, 6 cases of ventilator-associated pneumonia, 1 case of tracheobronchitis, and 2 cases of sinusitis were microbiologically substantiated.Of 11 patients who required mechanical ventilation, 9 developed acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Among the patients with ARDS, extraalveolar air leak complications occurred in 4 cases. Five patients died, all of whom were severely immunocompromised.On follow-up, 1 patient had severe chronic respiratory failure related to lung fibrosis, and 2 patients had mild lower limb paraparesis along with bladder dysfunction, both of which were ascribable to measles-induced encephalitis and myelitis. Among the 5 pregnant patients, the course of measles infection was uneventful, albeit 1 patient underwent emergent cesarean delivery because of fetal growth restriction.Measles is a disease with protean and potentially deceptive clinical manifestations, especially in the immunocompromised patient. Measles-associated pneumonitis and its complications, and less commonly postinfectious encephalomyelitis, are the main source of morbidity and mortality. In contrast with the usually benign course of the disease in immunocompetent patients, measles occurring in immunocompromised patients gives rise to lethal complications including ARDS, with or without bacterial superinfection. Other patients potentially at high risk for severe measles are young adults and pregnant women. Measles pneumonitis may predispose to air leak disease in patients using mechanical ventilation. To date, vaccination remains the most potent tool to control measles infection.