While strokes are not common in children, the risk of a child having a stroke increases when he or she has a cold or the flu. According to a new study, that child’s risk of having a stroke is reduced when he or she is fully vaccinated.
Based on 700 children across nine countries, researchers linked having had a recent illness like bronchitis, ear infection or "strep throat" to a six-fold rise in stroke risk. Having few or none of the routine childhood vaccinations was tied to a seven-fold rise in risk.
“We’re always trying to raise awareness that childhood stroke happens at all,” said lead author Dr. Heather J. Fullerton of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco.
Stroke is more common in children who have other health risk factors as well, Fullerton told Reuters Health. Parents of children who have a chronic disease often worry if it is safe for their child to be vaccinated. The results from this study suggest that it is even more important for these families to make sure their child is current on all their vaccines.
Parents should also know infection prevention measures like hand washing and vaccines can help prevent stroke as well, Fullerton said.
From birth to age 19 years, the rate of strokes among youth in the U.S. is about five per 100,000 children. Up to 40 percent of kids who have a stroke will die from it, according to the American Stroke Association.
Fullerton and her coauthors used medical records and parental interviews for 355 children under age 18 who experienced a stroke and compared them to records and parental interviews for 354 children without stroke.
Half of the children with stroke were age seven or older.
In the stroke group, 18 percent of the children had contracted some kind of infection in the week before the stroke occurred, while three percent of children in the comparison group had an infection in the week before the study interview.
Stroke risk was only increased for a one-week period during infection.
Infections a month earlier were not tied to stroke risk, according to the results in Neurology.
Infections, not cold medicines, were responsible for the strokes according to the analysis in this study.
“When you have an infection, the body mounts immune response,” which manifests as fever, aches and blood that clots more easily, Fullerton said.
In stroke, a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain.
“One can speculate that changes in the body as a result of infection may tip the balance in a child already at higher risk for stroke,” said Dr. Jose Biller, chair of neurology at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, who coauthored an editorial in the same issue of the journal.
“Parents should not be alarmed if their child has a cold that this will lead to stroke,” Biller told Reuters Health.
But it is important that parents be encouraged to continue with infection prevention procedures including regular pediatric vaccines, Biller said.
“Most physicians will agree that vaccines are among the safest medical products, they are rigorously tested and monitored,” he said. “They prevent thousands of illnesses and deaths in the U.S. each year.”
Infants with stroke generally present with seizures, while older infants and school age kids with stroke will have similar symptoms to an adult, including weakness on one side of the body, Fullerton said.
Kidshealth.org list these symptoms of stroke in a child.
Symptoms of stroke in an infant are:
· Seizures in one area of the body, such as an arm or a leg.
· Problems eating.
· Trouble breathing or pauses in breathing (apnea).
· Early preference for use of one hand over the other.
· Developmental delays, such as rolling over and crawling later than usual.
Symptoms of stroke in kids and teens are:
· Headaches, possibly with vomiting.
· Sudden paralysis or weakness on one side of the body.
· Language or speech delays or changes, such as slurring.
· Trouble swallowing.
· Vision problems, such as blurred or double vision.
· Tendency to not use one of the arms or hands.
· Tightness or restricted movement in the arms and legs.
· Difficulty with schoolwork.
· Memory loss.
· Sudden mood or behavioral changes.
If your child experiences any of these symptoms, see a doctor right away, or call 911. Treatment for stroke can be given to reduce the severity, but needs to be administered as soon as possible.
Sources: Kathryn Doyle, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/30/us-health-stroke-child-infections-idUSKCN0RU2O320150930