In the United Kingdom the use of aspirin in children under 12 has been banned since 1986. This past April the UK Committee on Safety of Medicines additionally warned that it should also be avoided in children up to 15 if they were feverish. The primary reason given is because of its links with Reye’s syndrome, the rare but potentially fatal disorder found almost exclusively in children and adolescents.
The news article, printed in the November 2, 2002 issue of the British Medical Journal reported that the committee recommended that the warning on aspirin products should read “Do not give to children aged under 16 years, unless on the advice of a doctor.” Chairman of the committee, Professor Alasdair Breckenridge, said, “There is simply no need to expose those under 16 to the risk, however small.”
Reye’s syndrome can affect all organs of the body, BMJbut it is most harmful to the brain and liver, where it may cause raised intracranial pressure or liver failure. Since 1986 when the use of aspirin in children under 12 was banned the condition has virtually disappeared in children in that age group. Prior to the ban, between the years 1981 and 1986 there was an average of nine cases in the United Kingdom a year associated with aspirin use in this age group. Since mid-1986 only seven cases have occurred in total.
Professor Breckenridge added, “I want to be very clear that there is no cause for panic or concern, but I also want to ensure that parents and children alike are kept well informed and are aware of the importance of this warning.”
It is little known, but in the United States the US Food and Drug Administration recommends that aspirin should not be given to children under 19 years of age during episodes of fever.