Hundreds of European children have developed the incurable sleep disorder narcolepsy after being immunized with a swine flu shot, prompting an expert to suggest a causal relationship between the two.
More than 800 children who have been affected by the sleep disorder received the Pandemrix H1N1 swine flu vaccine in 2009 and 2010 which was manufactured by British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline in 2009, according to Reuters
That particular vaccine was not administered in the United States because drug regulators are wary of what are called adjuvant vaccines which increase the body's immune response.
Narcolepsy is marked by irresistible daytime sleepiness and excessive drowsiness that cause a person to fall asleep anywhere at any time, for a few minutes or longer. Upon waking, those afflicted with the disorder may feel paralyzed, as muscles are strikingly weaker. In addition, people who have narcolepsy can hallucinate when awake, or have “microsleep” episodes, in which they function but without conscious awareness.
There have been spikes in narcolepsy among children in Sweden, Finland, Norway, Ireland, France, and Britain, according to Everyday Health. The shot was administered to more than 30 million people in 47 countries at the peak of the 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic.
European drug regulators have now outlawed Pandemrix for people under the age of 20.
Norman Begg, chief medical officer in GSK's vaccines division, told Reuters his firm views the issue extremely seriously and is "absolutely committed to getting to the bottom of this," but added there is not yet enough data or evidence to suggest a causal link.
However, Emmanuel Mignot, one of the world's leading experts on narcolepsy, is being funded by GSK to investigate further and said there is strong evidence there is a casual link.
"There's no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Pandemrix increased the occurrence of narcolepsy onset in children in some countries - and probably in most countries," said Mignot, a specialist in the sleep disorder at Stanford University.
Experts like Mignot are investigating what component, if there is one, triggered the onset of narcolepsy and if those affected had a genetic susceptibility.
Independent teams of scientists have published peer-reviewed studies from Sweden, Finland, and Ireland showing the risk of developing narcolepsy after the 2009-2010 immunization campaign was between seven to 13 times higher for children who had Pandemrix than for their unvaccinated peers.
The sleep disorder affects 200 to 500 people for every million, and scientists aren't exactly sure of what cases it or how to cure it, according to Reuters. However, patients have a deficit of a brain neurotransmitter called orexin, also known as hypocretin, which regulates wakefulness.
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