Flu vaccine 'linked to narcolepsy'

Children and teenagers who have been given a flu vaccine are at greater risk of developing narcolepsy, research has found.

Health Minister James Reilly published a report that claims children aged five to 19 who have received Pandemrix are more prone to developing the sleep disorder than those who have not.

“This report is a start in understanding the association between the vaccine and narcolepsy,” said Dr Reilly.

“However, our main focus is on the people affected and their families. We are working to put in place assessment and supports that help them cope with this condition.”

Pandemrix was widely administered during the swine flu pandemic in 2009. Links were then identified between the drug and narcolepsy in Sweden, which prompted authorities to research possible connections. This led to further studies in Finland and eventually research in Ireland.

The report cited 28 cases of narcolepsy among children and adults, 24 of whom were primary pupils. Of that figure, 19 had received the flu vaccine.

The condition among adults who had been administered Pandemrix was much less significant, the report stated.

The investigation was carried out by an expert group led by director of the Health Protection Surveillance centre Darina O’Flanagan.

Its findings reflect those in previous studies in Sweden and Finland, which found an increased risk among youngsters who were exposed to the drug.

However, the research also found that the drug alone would not sufficiently account for the increase in the narcolepsy risk.

International studies are ongoing to determine which other factors could contribute to the condition.

“International experts agree that a number of factors are likely to have contributed to the increased risk of developing narcolepsy and further research is required to understand the exact causative mechanism,” added Dr O’Flanagan.

People who suffer from narcolepsy can feel sleepy throughout the day and some experience sudden sleep attacks.

The condition is most prevalent among 13 to 19-year-olds in Ireland. In 2009 it is understood to have affected five in every 100,000.

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