Children with severe form of epilepsy should receive flu vaccine due to high seizure risk after influenza infection, study finds

Children with a severe form of epilepsy should be vaccinated against the flu due to the high risk of seizures being triggered by an influenza infection, according to a new study.

The research, led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the University of Melbourne, found the safe administration of the seasonal influenza vaccine should be a priority in those with SCN1A-postive Dravet syndrome given the likelihood of severe neurological symptoms and complications such as worsening seizures, deteriorating language and motor skills and even death after catching the flu.

Paediatric neurologist, Dr Katherine Howell from the Murdoch Children’s said the decision for parents to vaccinate children with this syndrome was complex because seizures could be triggered by both infection and vaccination. Dr Howell said despite the syndrome being associated with high rates of prolonged seizures during infections, the impact of influenza had not been previously studied.

The research, published in Neurology, involved children with SCN1A-positive Dravet syndrome who had a confirmed influenza infection at The Royal Children’s and Austin Hospital. Researchers found 21 children caught influenza 24 times, with brain complications reported in 88 per cent of cases. All presented to hospital with 75 per cent recovering quickly but death or long-term brain complications occurred in one in five infections. Between them they received 60 influenza vaccinations with most tolerating the vaccine well.

“Concerns about giving the flu vaccine and incomplete routine immunisations are common in this patient group due to the risk of seizures after vaccination,” Dr Howell said. However, because this syndrome is also associated with a high risk of seizures during infections, it highlights the critical need to protect patients from the complications of vaccine-preventable infections like the flu. Our research highlights that the benefits of flu vaccines for these children far outweighs the risks of seizures being triggered following vaccination.”

SCN1A-postive Dravet syndrome, the most common severe form of genetic epilepsy, occurs in one in 15,000 children.

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