OBJECTIVE. We sought to investigate the risk of serious neurologic disease after immunization in early childhood.

METHODS. The results of a 3-year prospective study of children (2–35 months old) in Britain and Ireland with encephalitis and/or severe illness with convulsions and fever were linked to each child's vaccine history. Cases were reported via the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit's network. The self-controlled case-series method was used to investigate associations between immunization and acute potential adverse events. The risk periods investigated were 0 to 3 and 0 to 7 days post–diphtheria, tetanus, whole cell pertussis, Haemophilus influenzae type b or meningococcal C conjugate vaccine and 6 to 11 and 15 to 35 days post–measles, mumps, rubella vaccine.

RESULTS. A total of 157 disease episodes from 155 children met the analytical case definition. There were 11 cases of herpes simplex encephalitis and 23 cases of primary human herpesvirus 6 and/or 7 infection. There was no evidence of a raised relative incidence of serious neurologic disease in any of the specified risk periods with the exception of a raised relative incidence of 5.68 in the 6–11 days after measles, mumps, rubella vaccine. Based on this relative incidence, between 3 and 6 of the 6 cases in this period were estimated to be attributable to the vaccine with a best estimate of 5. The 6 cases all had fever with convulsions lasting >30 minutes; in all but 1, there was complete recovery by discharge from hospital. Of the 5 patients who recovered, 1 had a concurrent primary human herpesvirus 6 infection and one a primary human herpesvirus 7.

CONCLUSIONS. Six to 11 days after measles, mumps, rubella vaccine there is an increased risk of fever and convulsions lasting >30 minutes. All 6 of the episodes temporally related to immunization met the criteria for complex febrile convulsions. The estimated attributable risk of serious neurological disease was similar to that previously found for measles vaccine.

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