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Reye Syndrome

Reye syndrome (often referred to as Reye’s syndrome) is a rare but very serious illness that usually occurs in children younger than fifteen years of age. It can affect all organs of the body, but most often injures the brain and the liver.

Reye syndrome is preceded by a viral infection, most commonly chickenpox or influenza. Although no one knows precisely what causes Reye syndrome, it affects only a small number of children, and is strongly associated with aspirin or aspirin-containing medication during the viral infection.

Signs and Symptoms

Whenever your child has a viral illness, be alert for the following pattern typical of Reye syndrome: Your child may develop a viral infection, such as influenza, an upper respiratory illness, or chickenpox, and then seem to be improving. However, then he abruptly starts to vomit repeatedly and frequently every one or two hours over a twenty-four to thirty-six-hour period, becoming lethargic or sleepy, which then turns into agitation, delirium, or anger. Then he may become confused or even become unresponsive. If the disease progresses, there is a strong chance he will have seizures and go into a deep coma.

Call your pediatrician as soon as you suspect that your child’s illness is following this pattern. If your doctor is not available, take your child to the nearest emergency department. It is very important to diagnose this illness as early as possible.


Since the medical community issued a public warning against the use of aspirin during viral illnesses, the number of cases of Reye syndrome has decreased greatly. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you do not give aspirin or any medications containing aspirin to your child or teenager when he has any viral illness, particularly chickenpox or influenza. If he needs medication for mild fever or discomfort, give him acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is approved for use in children six months of age or older; however, it should never be given to children who are dehydrated or who are vomiting continuously.

Last Updated
Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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