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Reye syndrome

Reye syndrome is characterized by liver failure and encephalopathy (brain damage), most commonly seen in school-aged children. The symptoms usually begin after illness with influenza (the flu) or chicken pox. There were few reported cases of this syndrome until 1974 when 400 cases occurred with a mrtality rate of over 40%. It was discovered that there was a temporal relationship between development of the syndrome and the epidemics of influenza and chicken pox.

There have also been studies which have linked Reye syndrome to the use of aspirin during an episode of the flu or chicken pox, and it is because of this association that it is no longer recommended to use aspirin in children.

The initial symptoms are protracted vomiting and signs of encephalopathy which include irritability, confusion, stupor, and eventually coma. Signs of liver involvement are determined by blood tests showing an increase in circulating liver enzymes, indicating liver cell destruction.

Children with Reye syndrome should be admitted to a pediatric intensive care unit for supportive care and observation. There is no cure for Reye syndrome. It is managed by treating any abnormalities in blood tests, such as low sugar and high ammonia, as well as giving medications to reduce the increased pressure on the brain. Not all cases are severe, some are mild only requiring treatment of low glucose levels.

The prognosis depends on the severity of the brain involvement. Mild cases recover fully and more severe cases may have some long term neurologic consequences, including effects on school performance.