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Vaccines > MMR > MMR-DTP
Febrile Seizures after 
MMR and DTP Vaccinations

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Measles, Mumps, & Rubella - MMR Vaccine
Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis - DTP Vaccine 

The August 30, 2001 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine published a study entitled "The Risk of Seizures after Receipt of Whole-Cell Pertussis or Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccine" by William E Barlow and colleagues.

  1. What are febrile seizures and what causes them?
  2. What are the health effects of fever-related seizures?
  3. How often do fever-related seizures happen after DTP and MMR vaccination?
  4. When do fever-related seizures tend to happen?
  5. Given the risk of seizures, should parents have their children vaccinated?
  6. What can be done to prevent fever-related seizures following vaccination?
  7. What should you do if your child has a seizure following a vaccination?
  8. Who conducted this study?
  9. How was the study done?

  1. What are febrile seizures and what causes them?

Fever-related seizures are the most common type of seizure that occurs during childhood. These seizures generally develop when a child’s temperature reaches 103.5 degrees or higher. Such seizures generally occur between 9 months and 5 years of age, and have a variety of causes. The most frequent causes of febrile seizures are viral infections of the upper respiratory tract (e.g., ear infections) and conditions like roseola. However, fever-related seizures may happen with any condition that causes a high fever.

  1. What are the health effects of fever-related seizures?

Children who have fever-related seizures uniformly have an excellent prognosis. This study found that febrile seizures following vaccination had no long-term effects.

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  1. How often do fever-related seizures happen after DTP and MMR vaccination?

Fever-related seizures following vaccination are very rare. In this study, the number of fever-related seizures following DTP vaccination was six to nine per 100,000 vaccinated children. The number after MMR vaccine was 25 to 34 per 100,000 vaccinated children.

  1. When do fever-related seizures tend to happen?

According to this research, children vaccinated with DTP vaccine are at most risk for seizures on the day of the vaccination. Previously it was believed that the risk period was the same for three days following the vaccination. Fever-related seizures tended to occur 8 to 14 days after getting the MMR vaccine.

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  1. Given the risks of seizures, should parents have their children vaccinated?

Yes. Despite the small risk for seizures linked to fever following vaccination, MMR and DTaP immunizations are strongly recommended. These vaccines prevent serious diseases that pose a much greater risk to most children’s health than the seizures associated with vaccination. Pertussis, for example, is a highly contagious respiratory disease ("whooping cough") that can lead to pneumonia, brain damage, and even death. Tetanus, diphtheria, measles, and mumps can also be life-threatening. Rubella can cause pregnant women to miscarry or have babies with serious birth defects.

  1. What can be done to prevent fever-related seizures following vaccination?

Many pediatricians recommend giving children an aspirin-free pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) at the time the child receives DTP or DTaP. DTaP is a new vaccine with fewer side effects that has recently replaced DTP in the United States. Do not give aspirin to a child under 18. Aspirin can cause Reye's Syndrome, a rare but dangerous disease.

Seizures following DTP usually occur in the first three days following immunization, with the greatest frequency happening in the first 24 hours.

Preventing seizures following an MMR vaccination is more difficult because fever-related seizures typically occur eight to 14 days following the shot. Still, it may be helpful to start giving your child an aspirin-free pain reliever as soon as you notice a fever.

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  1. What should you do if your child has a seizure following a vaccination?

Contact a medical professional right away. Although fever-related seizures typically are not associated with long-term harmful effects, it’s important that your child be evaluated to rule out other possible health problems.

  1. Who conducted this study?

The study was conducted by researchers from Group Health Cooperative’s Center for Health Studies, the University of Washington’s departments of Pediatrics and Epidemiology, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Northwest Kaiser Permanente, Kaiser Permanente of Northern California, UCLA Center for Vaccine Research, and Southern California Kaiser Permanente.

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  1. How was the study done?

Medical records at four large health maintenance organizations (HMOs) were reviewed. These HMOs are part of the Vaccine Safety Datalink Project, coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In their review, the researchers looked at the immunization and medical information among among 679,942 children after 340,386 vaccinations with DTP vaccine, 137,457 vaccinations with MMR vaccine, or no recent vaccination. Children who had febrile seizures after vaccination were followed to identify the risk of subsequent seizures and other neurological disabilities.

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This page last modified on September 18, 2001

   

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