Narcolepsy linked to popular swine flu vaccine, study suggests

A young girl is dealing with two very rare neurological disorders that some fear may have been brought on by something meant to protect her.

At first glance, 5-year-old Journey Washington appears to be a happy, healthy girl, but behind her hearty laugh lurks a frightening disease that strikes without warning.

“It’s been devastating. It really has. Our lives have not been the same at all,” says Betty Washington, Journey’s mother.

She is still learning how to cope with the twin conditions that plague her young daughter: narcolepsy, a neurological disorder that causes its victim to become drowsy and then suddenly fall asleep, and cataplexy, where strong emotions cause sudden muscle weakness.

“These kids are fighting sleepiness every minute of the day,” says Dr. Judith Owens, a pediatric sleep expert at Children’s National Medical Center. She says narcolepsy and cataplexy in very young children was almost unheard of a decade ago.

Nine-year-old LaShun Ray was diagnosed with narcolepsy in 2009.

“She would be at the dinner table eating and then all of a sudden fall asleep with food in her mouth,” says her mother, whose name is also LaShun.

In response to H1N1 or swine flu outbreaks in 2009, several vaccines were put on the market. The number of narcolepsy cases shot up.

“I would say I am 70-percent convinced and I think it is important that we understand whether that link is real,” says Dr. Owens.

Scientists in Europe have confirmed a link between the H1N1 vaccine used there with narcolepsy in children, but in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control says “it has found no association between our H1N1 vaccine and narcolepsy.”

“She has an endocrinologist and cardiologist. I had to quit working a full-time job to work part-time just to be able to accommodate doctors’ appointments,” says Washington.

Journey took the U.S. vaccine in 2009 and her mother says she started showing symptoms of narcolepsy seven months later. Ray isn’t sure whether her daughter took the vaccine. All she knows is the pain narcolepsy has brought to her family.

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