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Health Team

Reports of encephalitis linked to H1N1

Posted November 10, 2009 5:30 p.m. EST
Updated November 10, 2009 6:54 p.m. EST

WRAL Health Team

— Children are among those hit hard in the H1N1 outbreak, and health officials are now keeping an eye on a potentially deadly complication.

Jeff and Angie Turachak say they almost lost their son, Anthony, when the flu virus led to encephalitis, a critical brain infection.

"It was the like the worst thing you could think of," Jeff Turachak said. "Time comes like this, and you just don't know what to do. Here you are helpless."

After a few days of fever, Angie Turachak took her son to the emergency room at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh as a precaution. Within the hour, he was in the intensive care unit.

"They did the CAT scan and saw inflammation on his brain," she said.

After a handful of similar pediatric cases in Texas this past spring, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report about a potential connection between H1N1 and encephalitis.

It is not monitoring for cases nationwide.

"It's certainly concerning. Most of these are previously well children," said Dr. Ericka Fink, of the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. "This is part of the emerging disease of H1N1 that we need to better understand."

There can be long-term neurological damage as a result.

But Anthony's prognosis is good.

"He is getting better, and we are happy he's still here," his mother said.

Still, his parents say they aren't leaving his side until he's well enough to play with his toys.

Parents should call their pediatrician if their child is developing flu-like symptoms or for advice on when they should be taken to a hospital for emergency care.