Pandemic H1N1 causes brain damage in children

There are many viruses which can cause brain damage. To this list, we can now add pandemic H1N1.

From NBC News, September 22, 2010

New research released Sunday by the University of Utah shows the H1N1 virus apparently triggered a higher rate of neurological complications in children.

“I’ve been working as a physician for approximately 10 years and had never seen so many kids with flu and neurological problems,” says Dr. Josh Bonkowsky of the University of Utah Clinical Neurosciences Center.


Seizures and encephalopathy were the most common complications.

More than half the kids who had seizures developed a life-threatening condition called epilepticus, where continuous seizures happen for more than five to 30 minutes.

None of those children with the seasonal flu had as severe of complications as those with H1N1.

While most children who had H1N1 recovered, a few, even a year later, are still taking anti-seizure medications.

Others are still experiencing some cognitive issues.

Bonkowsky says one child in particular “lost a lot of developmental milestones by going back to being a young child — a return almost to a toddler infant-type of cognition ability.”

The research team also says H1N1 triggered an anomaly they haven’t seen before from influenza infections.

“The thing that surprised me most of all for the H1N1 flu and the kids who had the neurological complications were those who often had something we call aphasia, which means they lose the ability to talk,” Bonkowsky said.


The Utah research, so far, is the most extensive study of neurological complications following H1N1 infections in children.

Kids in other states hit hard during the pandemic apparently had similar complications.

This study is supposed to be published in the Annals of Neurology but is not yet available, so it is hard to assess the signficance of the findings. However, long term cognitive deficits suggest that the damage to children’s brains is likely permanent.


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