Neurologic aspects of influenza viruses

Handb Clin Neurol. 2014:123:619-45. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53488-0.00030-4.


Although influenza A and B viruses are primarily known as respiratory viruses and mainly infected only the upper respiratory tract in humans, patients with influenza often develop signs and symptoms that are not due to the respiratory system. Frequently individuals with influenza develop headaches, meningismus, and even seizures in addition to their typical respiratory symptoms. In the past decades, influenza viruses have also been associated with serious non-respiratory signs. The famous 1918 strain of influenza was associated with von Economo's encephalitis lethargica and postencephalitic parkinsonism. In the 1960s influenza virus infections in children were associated with Reye's syndrome characterized often by fatty non-inflammatory hepatic disease and an encephalopathy with marked non-inflammatory cerebral edema. Intermittently children with influenza develop focal myalgia and myositis. Guillain–Barré syndrome was epidemiologically associated with the 1978 killed influenza vaccine but not subsequent vaccines. Although occasional children with influenza have developed encephalopathy, from 2000 through 2004 there was an increase in the number of serious cases of acute necrotizing encephalopathy accompanying infection with the influenza A 2009 strain. The current H5N1 strain of bird influenza occasionally infects humans with a high mortality rate and some appear to have central nervous signs. This chapter explores what is known about these influenza neurologic associations.

Keywords: Guillain–Barré syndrome; H5N1 influenza; Reye's syndrome; acute necrotizing encephalopathy; encephalopathy; influenza virus; myositis; postencephalitic parkinsonism; seizures; von Economo's encephalitis.

MeSH terms

  • Encephalitis, Viral* / complications
  • Encephalitis, Viral* / etiology
  • Encephalitis, Viral* / virology
  • Humans
  • Influenza, Human / complications*
  • Nervous System Diseases / etiology*
  • Nervous System Diseases / pathology
  • Nervous System Diseases / virology
  • Orthomyxoviridae / pathogenicity*