The number of rare brain infections called brain abscesses tripled for kids in Nevada last year and, with doctors across the country seeing a similar trend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has opened an investigation, according to CNN.

Dr. Taryn Bragg from the University of Utah, who has been treating many of the patients, told CNN, “In my 20 years’ experience, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

CNN said there were 18 kids who reported a brain abscess in 2022 — a big jump from the usual four to five cases each year.

In a press release, the Southern Nevada Health District said that the median age of patients was 12, and 76% of them were male.

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What is a brain abscess?

A brain abscess is a collection of pus in the brain tissue caused by bacteria or fungal infection that usually develops after a surgery, brain infection or trauma, according to Harvard Medical School.

The press release said signs and symptoms of a brain abscess include fever, severe headache, nausea, vomiting and seizures.

Dr. Jessica Penney, the CDC Epidemic intelligence Service officer assigned to the Southern Nevada Health District, investigated the cases and found the 18 infected kids hadn’t experienced previous brain surgery or trauma. She reported on the investigation, which ended in 2022.

“These are healthy children. With no prior significant medical history that would make them more prone … there wasn’t any known immunosuppression or anything like that,” Bragg told CNN.

After going to the hospital, 14 of the patients required surgery to drain the brain mass, 76% of patients were diagnosed with sinusitis and 26% were diagnosed with mastoiditis, the press release said.

CNN said Penney’s investigation was presented at the CDC’s annual Epidemic Intelligence Service conference on Thursday and multiple other doctors from different parts of the U.S. saw similar trends in brain abscesses in kids.

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Cause for spike

Penney and her team looked for the cause of the spike in Nevada, taking different things into account like travel, underlying health and if patients had been previously diagnosed with COVID-19.

“So the thoughts are, you know, maybe in that period where kids didn’t have these exposures, you’re not building the immunity that you would typically get previously, you know with these viral infections,” Penney told CNN.

In the press release, the South Nevada Health District outlines recommendations for health care providers, including:

  • Giving treatment for bacterial sinusitis, otitis media or orbital cellulitis, which are all prerequisite infections to a brain abscess.
  • Educating patients on signs and symptoms of a brain abscess.
  • Obtaining cranial imaging with neurosurgical specialists, if a brain abscess is suspected.