Reye’s syndrome is rare and life-threatening disease characterized by brain and liver damage following a viral infection. A link between children taking aspirin and the appearance of the syndrome has been demonstrated.
Reye’s syndrome mainly affects children and adolescents. It sometimes affects infants, and very rarely affects adults. It appears most often in the wintertime when these viruses and infections are most active. Approximately one-third of cases of Reye’s syndrome occur after a case of chickenpox.
The symptoms of Reye’s syndrome appear a few days after the onset of the flu or chickenpox. The sufferer will experience frequent vomiting that will last over 12 hours. Fever can also occur, but this may also be a symptom of the initial viral disease.
In the case of Reye’s syndrome, vomiting and fever are accompanied by behaviours associated with cerebral dysfunction (fixed gaze, stupor, strange behaviour, delirium, apathy, irritability, drowsiness). If the patient is not cared for quickly, these symptoms can lead to seizures and coma.
According to several studies, the use of aspirin in children with one of the aforementioned viruses can contribute to the development of Reye’s syndrome. An American study from the 1980s demonstrated a link between taking aspirin during a viral episode and the onset of Reye’s syndrome. A study conducted in France in 1995 also observed this link, but with a very low rate of the development of Reye’s syndrome after the children took aspirin (0.08 cases for each 100,000 children).
In many countries, such as the United States, Canada, and England, health authorities recommend not giving aspirin to children with chickenpox or influenza. In France, a warning is inserted inside the leaflet that comes with a package of aspirin, stating that it is important to avoid administration of this drug in children with chickenpox or who display flu-like symptoms.
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT
Diagnosis of Reye’s syndrome is made based on the various symptoms present in the patient and on blood test results. In the case of Reye’s syndrome, blood tests will show a high level of alanine aminotransferase, while bilirubin levels are normal. Most patients with Reye’s syndrome also have higher serum levels of certain liver enzymes such as ALT.
When the diagnosis of Reye’s syndrome is made, the child should be hospitalized straight away and put on a drip. If the syndrome is diagnosed early, chances of recovery are excellent. If the diagnose is delayed, the child may fall into a coma and die.