A reminder that flu and cold season is still in full bloom was emphasized to a Colwood family on Wednesday when B.C. Ambulance twice attended the home for calls about two children having seizures.
Seizures caused by fevers can be a scary experience for families and health-care workers, even though these types of episodes occur on a regular basis, health experts say.
“Children can have seizures when they have elevated temperatures, secondary to a variety of causes,” said Vancouver Island Health Authority spokeswoman Sarah Plank, adding it’s relatively common for emergency rooms to see children who are having seizures related to fever. “We see a few per week, and we have seen one to two today.”
Febrile seizures are the most common type of seizure and occur in about three to five per cent of children, according to a 2007 report by pediatric experts with the University of B.C.
“We see a lot of children who have those types of seizures, and they are considered pretty benign,” said consulting pediatrician Dr. Wilma Arruda of Nanaimo. They are seen in children between six months and five years old.
During a typical seizure, a child may lose consciousness and convulse or shake erratically. The episode commonly lasts about a minute or two. Such seizures are associated with fevers reaching 38.9 C (102 F) or higher but can also occur at lower temperatures or even when a fever is receding, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“That’s why, in fact, we give things like Tylenol to avoid outcomes like this,” Arruda said. “Most of us are pretty sure if a child has a fever, it’s safe to give them medication to avoid something like a seizure and just make them feel better.”
Acetaminophen (found in Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can be given to children with fevers. Aspirin (also known as acetylsalicylic acid, or ASA) is not recommended for children under the age of 18 due to concerns of possible liver and brain damage.
“But yes, [seizures] are very scary,” Arruda said. “It scares you, and it scares the parents. What we always want to make sure is it’s typical, in that it’s short and there’s no long-lasting effects.”
That means ruling out other types of seizures that could be the result of acute infections, such as bacterial meningitis, which require urgent examination and treatment.
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