New study shows potential mental health side effects of pediatric flu

Reporter: Amy Oshier Writer: Nicholas Karsen
Published: Updated:

Pediatric flu deaths are estimated to be nearly 200 per season, with about a quarter of deaths including children 5 and under.

Children with underlying brain conditions that can trigger neuropsychiatric events, some as serious as suicide, are at risk as well.

A new study seeks answers on whether the flu or treatment builds suicidal thoughts.

“These neuropsychiatric events included things like brain inflammation, seizures and acute behavioral changes, like suicide attempts,” said Dr. James W. Antoon, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Of the 150,000 children who catch the flu, 1,500 of them suffered a neuropsychiatric event from the flu. However, there was a startling difference in those predisposed to brain disorders.

“The rate of neuropsychiatric events was about 10 times higher in those with underlying psychiatric conditions and 100 times higher in those with underlying neurologic conditions,” said Antoon.

He continued to explain what exactly triggers the neuropsychiatric events.

“There’s several potential ways it can happen. It’s very well-known that flu can cause inflammation in the brain, and because something called encephalitis or encephalopathy that causes acute behavior changes,” said Antoon.

Antoon advises parents to discuss these risks with pediatricians to decide about flu treatment or not.

Earlier studies reported to the CDC have shown that annually about 160,000 kids are diagnosed with flu, and the risks are higher among teens for flu complications.

That risk soars to 100 times higher in kids predisposed to psychiatric events.

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