sick child
August 24, 2014

Infections Increase Stroke Risk In Children

Eric Hopton for - Your Universe Online

Although the risk of stroke is generally thought to increase with age, the disease can occur at any time of life. The incidence of stroke in children, however, is very low. Only around five children in every 100,000 experience a stroke. Previous research among adult stroke patients has established that, among the factors that increase the risk of stroke, infections can play a major role.

New findings have revealed that this heightened risk can also be observed in children, though the effect is temporary and short-lived. Research into this relationship between infection and stroke in children has never been carried out before.

At the University of California – San Francisco (UCSF), medical scientists have been looking at the problem. Results of the study have been published in the journal Neurology. The research was led by a team of researchers at the University’s Benioff Chidren’s Hospital in San Francisco in conjunction with Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research. UCSF Benioff admits around 5,000 children each year including approximately 2,000 births at the hospital.

One of the study’s senior authors is Heather Fullerton, MD, who works as a pediatric vascular neurologist and is also medical director of the Pediatric Brain Center at UCSF Benioff. She summed up the results of the study by saying, “These findings suggest that infection has a powerful but short-lived effect on stroke risk”.

The research team used information from Kaiser Permanente’s database of 2.5 million children and began to look for any correlation between infection and stroke. They discovered a total of 102 children who had an ischemic stroke where no major serious infection such as meningitis or sepsis had been identified. (Ischemic strokes result from obstructions or clots in the blood supply to the brain.) The medical records for this group were reviewed to see if there were any minor infections in the 2 years leading up to their strokes. The results for the 102 children affected by ischemic strokes were compared to those for a further 306 children who had not had a stroke.

The study found evidence of heightened risk of stroke where infection had been present but only within a three day period before the stroke – the “period of acute inflammation.” As the infection dies down, the inflammation lessens, and the risk of a resultant stroke diminishes.

Ten (9.8%) of the 102 children who had suffered a stroke needed a doctor visit for infection in the three days before the stroke. Of the 306 children in the control group, only 2 (0.7%) had a doctor visit for an infection within that period. Infections were therefore 12 times more common in the stroke-affected group. However, looking at the two year period before stroke, the research found no evidence to link the total number of infections with increased risk.

The authors of the report stress the rarity of strokes in children and that they believe the infections are “acting as a trigger in children who are likely predisposed to stroke.” The conclusion is that where children are identified as being at high risk of stroke, infection control is essential and that “we should make sure those kids are getting vaccinated against whatever infections – such as flu – that they can.”

The research was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.