CHICAGO (Reuters) – Children who have unexplained seizures and flu-like symptoms should be tested for infection with the H1N1swine flu virus and treated with flu-fighting drugs, U.S. health officials said on Thursday.
They said four children in Dallas County, Texas, who got the new swine flu virus in late May had seizures or changes in mental status caused by brain infections and swelling.
Some of the children experienced drowsiness, weakness and disorientation and were slow to respond to questions. Two of the four had seizures.
All have recovered and were discharged from the hospital without lingering brain damage, according to a team from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and local and federal health officials.
“Infection with seasonal influenza virus can be associated with neurologic complications, but the frequency with which these occur with novel influenza A (H1N1) virus infection is unknown,” they wrote in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly report on death and disease.
Influenza infections account for about 5 percent of cases of acute childhood encephalitis, a severe infection and inflammation of the brain that can cause brain damage and death. Neurologic complications were reported in 6 percent of flu-related deaths among children during the 2003-2004 flu season in the United States.
During most flu outbreaks, children of varying ages are most at risk. But the current H1N1 virus that has caused a global pandemic appears to strike healthy older children and young adults.
In the CDC’s report, children were age 7, 10, 11 and 17. Two were previously healthy. One had experienced a fever-related seizure a year earlier, and one had a history of asthma. All recovered fully.
“These findings indicate that, as with seasonal influenza, neurologic complications can occur after respiratory tract infection with novel influenza A (H1N1) virus,” the team wrote.
The CDC in an editorial urged doctors caring for children hospitalized with influenza-like illness and unexplained seizures or mental status changes to send respiratory specimens for testing, and start treatment with antiviral drugs right away.
“Antiviral treatment should be initiated as soon as possible for any hospitalized patient with neurologic symptoms and suspected seasonal influenza or novel influenza A (H1N1),” according to the report.