Doctor offers hypothesis on what's causing brain abscesses in Southern Nevada children

Doctor offers hypothesis on what’s causing brain abscesses in Southern Nevada children

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LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — In early May, reports of a cluster of children in Southern Nevada with rare and severe brain abscesses came to light. Specialists with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have investigated the cluster. Doctors are now hypothesizing what factors may have contributed to the spike in cases and a general increase in illnesses among children since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Taryn Bragg, a pediatric neurosurgeon for Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital in Utah and Sunrise Children’s Hospital in Las Vegas, is Nevada’s only full-time board-certified pediatric neurosurgeon.

“I haven’t had as many cases so far in 2023,” said Bragg. “I do know that other colleagues across the country are still seeing cases.”

Bragg said she’s hopeful that the CDC will keep investigating to ensure nothing is being overlooked to decrease the risk of children developing brain infections.

After March 2022, Bragg says she noticed the alarming trend and notified Southern Nevada Health District experts. 

“In my practice, I normally would see one to two patients a year,” said Bragg. “It’s very unusual to see more than that. 18 is quite extraordinary.”

Taryn M. Bragg, a neurosurgeon in Las Vegas, weighs in on what factors may have contributed to the spike in cases of rare and serious brain abscesses in Southern Nevada children. (KLAS)

Doctor Bragg says nearly all 18 children fully recovered from their brain abscesses but required extensive, sometimes numerous, surgeries to remove infection and help with swelling. Often they required lengthy hospital stays. She says some are still in the process of treatment, which includes long courses of antibiotics.

Bragg says most cases were in elementary school and middle school-aged boys. The children had no underlying medical conditions.

Experts looked for common factors in patients, including exposure, travel, and history of COVID-19 infection. Although doctors found no links, Bragg says there are several theories as to why doctors may be seeing the increase and why other infectious diseases have become prevalent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One of those theories is something called ‘immunity debt’ where perhaps because we were quarantined and masking, that we developed a relative sense of maybe immunosuppression,” she said. “Or that we just hadn’t been exposed to those organisms and therefore they might be more aggressive at the time we encountered them.”

Bragg said another theory he other theory has to do with the fact that the number of COVID-19 infections in the community has declined, allowing common pediatric viruses and illnesses to increase as they no longer compete with COVID-19 as the primary source of infection.

“They are both valid explanations that could account for what we are seeing in these children,” Bragg said.

Bragg said she aims to educate the community about symptoms to look out for. She said a high fever greater than 101.5 degrees, persistent elevated temperature, severe headaches, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, or weakness in the face, arms, or legs, could signify an illness. Bragg suggests visiting a pediatrician or emergency room if those symptoms are recurrent or ongoing.

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