Health officials are sounding the alarm about a rise in rare and serious brain abscesses in children in and around Las Vegas, Nevada.
Experts from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are studying the spate of cases, while doctors across America say they are also seeing a surge in cases.
The number of juvenile brain abscesses in Nevada has tripled in the past year, going 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 is treating the cases, told CNN she had “never seen anything like it” in her 20 years of experience.
Doctors are unsure what caused the surge but said it could be due to weakened immunity to infection due to Covid measures such as lockdowns.
The first symptoms of brain abscesses are headaches and intermittent fever. But they can lead to seizures, blurred vision, vomiting, loss of muscle function on one side of the body, speech problems, and changes in mental status
There has been a rise in rare and severe childhood brain abscesses in and around Las Vegas, Nevada
dr Bragg was able to spot the pattern and alert local health officials because she is the only pediatric neurosurgeon for Nevada.
After March 2022, there was a “tremendous increase” in brain abscesses, which was “unusual” given that “the similarities in terms of presentation of the cases were striking”.
In almost all cases, the child develops a typical childhood ailment such as an earache or a sinus infection with a headache and fever.
dr Bragg said that within days it would become clear that something more serious was at play.
It turns out that doctors in the US are seeing more and more brain abscesses in younger populations.
dr Sunil Sood, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Northwell Health, a New York health care system, estimated that his facility was experiencing at least twice the usual rate of brain abscesses.
Brain abscesses by themselves are not reportable, meaning doctors don’t have to inform health authorities when they occur.
Brain abscesses are pus-filled swellings in the brain. They usually occur when bacteria or fungi enter brain tissue after an infection or a serious head injury.
The first symptoms are headaches and intermittent fever. It can cause seizures, blurred vision, vomiting, loss of muscle function on one side of the body, speech problems, and changes in mental status.
In Clark County peak, about three-quarters of the cases occurred in boys around the age of 12.
dr Jessica Penney, the CDC epidemic intelligence service officer for the Southern Nevada Health District, said that between 2015 and 2020, pediatric brain abscess cases remained a constant four per year.
In 2020 the number fell, likely due to Covid measures such as lockdowns, school closures, masking and social distancing.
The following year, the number of brain abscesses returned to normal and then skyrocketed in 2022.
dr Penney said the surge could be due to the pandemic’s immunity debt, when children weren’t exposed to respiratory diseases and couldn’t build natural protection.
dr However, Sood disagrees. He believes Covid has temporarily crowded out infections and crowded out others.
As Covid cases have calmed down, other childhood infections have returned – like the RSV blast of autumn and winter 2022.
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