Reye's Syndrome: A Medical Mystery and a Modern Dilemma


Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, parents and physicians were terrified by the emergence of an apparently new ailment that left hundreds of children dead every year and hundreds more permanently damaged. Reye's Syndrome, first described in the early 1960s, appeared as children were recovering from influenza and sometimes chickenpox, quickly throwing them into comas and frequently death. About half of the children diagnosed with Reye's syndrome died and about half of the survivors were left with permanent brain or liver damage. Scientists and physicians raced to find the cause and develop treatments for Reye's syndrome, and eventually epidemiological evidence emerged that it was caused or at least made more severe by aspirin. Since the early 1980′s, parents have been warned to avoid giving their children aspirin, especially when they suffered from a viral illness. But even before the FDA began labeling aspirin bottles, the number of Reye's syndrome cases dropped dramatically, and it nearly disappeared before the before the Public Health Service could complete its study of the hypothesis that aspirin was to blame for the ailment. This talk examines the history of Reye's syndrome, the hunt to uncover its cause, and the debates that have emerged over last twenty years about the role of aspirin in Reye's syndrome.
Mark A. Largent, PhD
Associate Dean, Lyman Briggs College and Associate Professor, James Madison College at Michigan State University
Recorded October 16, 2013


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