The number of pediatric flu deaths is estimated to be nearly 200 per season – about a quarter are in kids under 5.

Also at high risk are children with underlying brain conditions that can trigger neuropsychiatric events, some as serious as suicide. But a new study seeks answers on whether the flu or the treatment builds suicidal thoughts.

The flu commonly causes respiratory issues, but in some children, it can trigger neuropsychiatric issues.

“These neuropsychiatric events included things like brain inflammation, seizures and acute behavioral changes like suicide attempts,” said Dr. James W. Antoon, MD, PhD, MPH,
assistant professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

That also includes anxiety and depressive episodes. Of the 150,000 children with flu, 1,500 of them suffered a neuropsychiatric event from the flu.

However, there were startling differences in those predisposed to brain disorders.

“The rate of neuropsychiatric events was about 10 times higher in those with underlying psychiatric conditions and 100 times higher in those with underlying neurologic conditions,” said Dr. Antoon.

But what triggers these neuropsychiatric events? Is it flu or Tamiflu?

“There’s a number of potential ways it can happen. It’s very well-known that flu can cause inflammation in the brain and cause something called encephalitis or encephalopathy, that causes acute behavior changes,” Dr Antoon continued.

But also.

“The anti-viral Tamiflu, or oseltamivir, has a black box warning for neuropsychiatric events,” Dr. Antoon added.

Dr. Antoon advises parents to discuss these risks with pediatricians to decide about flu treatment or not.