Is Reye's syndrome a common condition?
Reye's syndrome was first described in 1963 by an Australian pathologist, R. Douglas Reye, MD. A short biography and photograph can be found in the section "The Foundation", under the sub-title "Historical". Since then it has been recognised in many parts of the world. It used to occur in minor epidemics, which in some countries (most notably the USA) were associated with influenza epidemics.
Although the exact incidence of the condition in the UK and Ireland is not known, reported cases have fallen dramatically from nearly a hundred in 1984 to only one in 2002. Since then no active surveillance of the disorder has been undertaken.
In the period 2003-2009 three cases of Reye's syndrome or Reye-like disorders in England and Wales have been ascertained by the adverse drug reaction surveillance scheme of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) .
It is likely that there is some under-reporting and under-diagnosis, but this downward trend has also been seen in the USA and is attributed to reduction in the use of aspirin in children since the public warnings in 1986. Nevertheless there may be a resurgence, especially if there is a large 'flu' epidemic or the aspirin warning is ignored or forgotten as the time goes by. It is thus essential that clinicians retain high diagnostic awareness of Reye's syndrome and Reye-like disorders.
Next review: December 2019