Objectives: To compare the incidence of febrile seizures in children hospitalized for influenza A infection with parainfluenza and adenovirus infection and to examine the hypothesis that children hospitalized for influenza A (variant Sydney/H3N2) during the 1998 season in Hong Kong had more frequent and refractory seizures when compared with other respiratory viruses, including the A/Wuhan H3N2 variant that was present in the previous year.
Methods: Medical records of children between 6 months and 5 years of age admitted for influenza A infection in 1998 were reviewed. For comparison, records of children of the same age group with influenza A infection in 1997, and with parainfluenza and adenovirus infections between 1996 and 1998 were reviewed. Children who were afebrile or who had an underlying neurologic disorder were excluded.
Results: Of children hospitalized for influenza A in 1998 and 1997, 54/272 (19.9%) and 27/144 (18.8%) had febrile seizures, respectively. The overall incidence of febrile seizures associated with influenza A (19.5%) was higher than that in children hospitalized for parainfluenza (18/148; 12.2%) and adenovirus (18/199; 9%) infection, respectively. In children who had febrile seizures, repeated seizures were more commonly associated with influenza A infection than with parainfluenza or adenovirus infection (23/81 [28%] vs 3/36 [8.3%], odds ratio [OR] 4.3, 95% confidence interval: 1.2 to 15.4). Alternatively, children with influenza A infection had a higher incidence (23/416, 5.5%) of multiple seizures during the same illness than those with adenovirus or parainfluenza infection (3/347, 0.86%; OR 6.7, 95% confidence interval: 2.0-22.5.) The increased incidence of febrile seizures associated with influenza A was not attributable to differences in age, gender, or family history of febrile seizure. Multivariate analysis, adjusted for peak temperature and duration of fever, showed that hospitalized children infected with infection A had a higher risk of febrile seizures than those who were infected with parainfluenza or adenovirus (OR 1.97). Influenza A infection was a significant cause of febrile seizure admissions. Of 250 and 249 children admitted to Queen Mary Hospital for febrile seizures in 1997 and 1998, respectively, influenza A infection accounted for 27 (10.8%) admissions in 1997 and 54 (21.7%) in 1998. During months of peak influenza activity, it accounted for up to 35% to 44% of febrile seizure admissions. In contrast, parainfluenza, adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, and influenza B had a smaller contribution to hospitalizations for febrile seizures, together accounting for only 25/250 (10%) admissions in 1997 and 16/249 (6.4%) in 1998.
Conclusion: The influenza A Sydney variant (H3N2) was not associated with an increased risk of febrile seizures when compared with the previous influenza A Wuhan variant (H3N2) or H1N1 viruses. However, in hospitalized children, influenza A is associated with a higher incidence of febrile seizures and of repeated seizures in the same febrile episode than are adenovirus or parainfluenza infections. The pathogenesis of these observations warrants additional studies. Complex febrile seizures, particularly multiple febrile seizures at the time of presentation, have been thought to carry an adverse long-term prognosis because of its association with a higher incidence of epilepsy. Repeated febrile seizures alone, particularly if associated with influenza A infection, may not be as worrisome as children with complex febrile seizures because of other causes, which requires additional investigation. This may subsequently have an impact on reducing the burden of evaluation in a subset of children with complex febrile seizures.