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Progressive Rubella Panencephalitis

By Mary T. Caserta, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Diseases;Attending Physician, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry;Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong, University of Rochester Medical Center

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Progressive rubella panencephalitis is a neurologic disorder occurring in children with congenital rubella. It is presumably due to persistence or reactivation of rubella virus infection.

Some children with congenital rubella syndrome (eg, with deafness, cataracts, microcephaly, and intellectual disability) develop neurologic deficits in early adolescence (see Congenital Rubella).


  • CSF examination and serologic testing

  • CT

  • Sometimes brain biopsy

The diagnosis is considered when a child with congenital rubella develops progressive spasticity, ataxia, mental deterioration, and seizures. Testing involves at least CSF examination and serologic testing. CSF total protein and globulin and rubella antibody titers in CSF and serum are elevated. CT may show ventricular enlargement due to cerebellar atrophy and white matter disease. Brain biopsy may be necessary to exclude other causes of encephalitis or encephalopathy. Rubella virus usually cannot be recovered by viral culture or immunohistologic testing.


No specific treatment exists.