Reye's Syndrome

It's Your Health

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The Issue

Reye's Syndrome (RS) is a rare disease that affects mainly children or teenagers during a viral illness, such as chicken pox or influenza. It can be fatal. The use of ASA (Acetylsalicylic Acid) has been strongly linked with the development of RS.

Symptoms - What to do

The symptoms of RS may include:

  • Lingering or returning symptoms of the original illness
  • Personality changes such as hyperactivity, aggression, confusion and anxiety
  • Frequent vomiting and/or dry-heaving, convulsions and delirium, possibly leading to a coma

If your child gets any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately or go to your hospital's emergency department. RS is fatal in 20 to 30 percent of all cases, and can cause permanent brain damage in those who survive.

Often, victims get RS just as they appear to be recovering from the original illness. The use of ASA to treat the original illness is strongly connected to the development of RS. However, in rare cases, RS occurs without ASA being taken. We don't know how ASA triggers RS, nor why it primarily affects children, teenagers and young adults.

Protecting Against Reye's Syndrome

Both government and manufacturers have taken action to educate the public about RS. Regulations under the Food and Drugs Act now require manufacturers to label all over-the-counter products that have ASA with a warning about the dangers of giving ASA to a child or teenagers. ASA products are given to children only for relief of pain and not for fever.

The Food and Drugs Act regulations do not allow products containing ASA to be advertised for use by children or teenagers.

Minimizing the Risk of Reye's Syndrome

If your child has a fever, there are other things you can do to bring down the temperature.

  • Give your child plenty of liquids to drink, preferably water, flat ginger ale, diluted apple juice or other sugared drinks.
    Avoid milk, carbonated drinks and tart drinks such as orange, cranberry and grapefruit juice. They might upset the child's stomach.
  • Remove any extra covers and clothing and keep the room temperature around 18 degrees Celsius (about 64 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Bathe or sponge the child with lukewarm water.
  • Use other drugs that help relieve fever, such as acetaminophen.
  • If the fever does not come down, consult your family doctor.
  • Never try to treat a feverish child under a year old without the advice of your doctor.
  • Never give any drug containing ASA to a child, particularly if he or she has the flu or chicken pox, before consulting your doctor.
  • Make sure that teenagers are also aware of the dangers of RS and how to prevent it.

The most important thing to remember is that some common symptoms are signs of more serious illnesses. If any symptoms last for more than two days or become worse, call your doctor.

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