22.05.2024

Doctors on high alert after mysterious cluster of brain infections strikes kids in southern Nevada

Health officials are sounding the alarm over a spike in rare and serious brain abscesses in children in and around Las Vegas, Nevada. Experts at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating the spate of cases, while doctors across America say they are also seeing a rise in cases.

The number of brain abscesses in minors tripled in Nevada last year, shooting up from an average of four or five a year to 18.

Dr Taryn Bragg, a pediatric neurosurgeon and associate professor at the University of Utah who treats the cases, told CNN she had ‘never seen anything like it’ in her 20 years’ experience.

Physicians are not sure what has caused the rise, but said it could be due to weakened immunity to infections due to Covid measures such as lockdowns.

Initial symptoms of brain abscesses are headaches plus an intermittent fever. But they can lead to seizures, changes to vision, vomiting, loss of muscle function on one side of the body, language problems and changes in mental status

There has been a spike in rare and serious brain abscesses in children in and around Las Vegas, Nevada

There has been a spike in rare and serious brain abscesses in children in and around Las Vegas, Nevada

Initial symptoms of brain abscesses are headaches plus an intermittent fever. But they can lead to seizures, changes to vision, vomiting, loss of muscle function on one side of the body, language problems and changes in mental status

Dr Bragg was able to spot the pattern and notify local public health officials because she is the only pediatric neurosurgeon for Nevada.

After March 2022, she said there was a ‘huge increase’ in brain abscesses, which is ‘unusual’, particularly as ‘the similarities in terms of the presentation of cases was striking’.

In nearly every case, the child would develop a typical childhood ailment like an earache or sinus infection, with a headache and fever.

Dr Bragg said that within days, it would become obvious something more severe was at play.

It arose that physicians across the US are observing more and more brain abscesses in younger populations.

Dr Sunil Sood, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Northwell Health, a health system in New York, guessed his facility was seeing at least double the usual amount of brain abscesses.

On their own, brain abscesses are not reportable, which means physicians do not have to tell public health officials when they occur.

Brain abscesses are pus-filled swellings in the brain. They normally happen when bacteria or fungi get into brain tissue after a infection or serious head injury.

Initial symptoms are headaches plus an intermittent fever. It can lead to seizures, changes to vision, vomiting, loss of muscle function on one side of the body, language problems and changes in mental status.

In the Clark County spike, around three-quarters of the cases happened in boys around age 12.

Dr Jessica Penney, the CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service officer for Southern Nevada Health District, said that between 2015 and 2020, pediatric brain abscess cases remained a consistent four a year.

In 2020 the number dropped, likely due to Covid measures such as lockdowns, school closures, masking and social distancing.

The following year, the numbers of brain abscesses went back to normal, and then shot up in 2022.

Dr Penney said the spike could be due to immunity debt from the pandemic, when children were not exposed to respiratory illnesses and couldn’t build up natural protection.

However, Dr Sood disagrees. He believes Covid displaced infections temporarily, pushing others out.

Because Covid cases have calmed down, other childhood infections have flooded back — like the explosion of RSV in the fall and winter of 2022.

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