Background: Influenza-associated encephalitis/encephalopathy (IAE) is an important cause of acute encephalitis syndrome in children. IAE includes a series of clinicoradiologic syndromes or acute encephalopathy syndromes that have been infrequently reported outside East Asia. We aimed to describe cases of IAE identified by the Australian Childhood Encephalitis study.
Methods: Children ≤ 14 years of age with suspected encephalitis were prospectively identified in 5 hospitals in Australia. Demographic, clinical, laboratory, imaging, and outcome at discharge data were reviewed by an expert panel and cases were categorized by using predetermined case definitions. We extracted cases associated with laboratory identification of influenza virus for this analysis; among these cases, specific IAE syndromes were identified where clinical and radiologic features were consistent with descriptions in the published literature.
Results: We identified 13 cases of IAE during 3 southern hemisphere influenza seasons at 5 tertiary children's hospitals in Australia; 8 children with specific acute encephalopathy syndromes including: acute necrotizing encephalopathy, acute encephalopathy with biphasic seizures and late diffusion restriction, mild encephalopathy with reversible splenial lesion, and hemiconvulsion-hemiplegia syndrome. Use of influenza-specific antiviral therapy and prior influenza vaccination were infrequent. In contrast, death or significant neurologic morbidity occurred in 7 of the 13 children (54%).
Conclusions: The conditions comprising IAE are heterogeneous with varied clinical features, magnetic resonance imaging changes, and outcomes. Overall, outcome of IAE is poor emphasizing the need for optimized prevention, early recognition, and empiric management.