Pediatrician Says Chance of Sinus Infection Spreading to Brain Is 'Extremely Rare' After Boy Dies

A pediatrician says parents should not be overly concerned about the possibility of a sinus infection spreading to the brain after a 13-year-old boy died

In a rare case, a 13-year-old boy from Michigan died March 11 after headaches and cold symptoms progressed into an infection that spread to his brain. In February Marquel Brumley had signs of a bad cold, later accompanied by piercing migraines that led to limited muscle movement and facial swelling. Doctors discovered that a sinus infection had traveled to blood vessels in his brain, creating blood clots that they were unable to relieve before Brumley died.

But while this is a scary incident, Dr. Elizabeth Murray, a pediatrician at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY and member of PEOPLE’s Health Squad who did not treat Brumley, emphasizes that this case is extremely rare, and should not be cause for concern.

“When scary stuff like this is in the news, I like to remind parents that the reason it is news is because it is extremely rare,” she tells PEOPLE. “You know your comfort level best and your child best and if you aren’t comfortable with something, talk to your pediatrician.”

Dr. Murray says that it’s unusual for a child to get a sinus infection in the first place.

“Only about 6 percent of kids presenting for the concern of regular cold versus sinusitis actually have sinusitis — far fewer have any type of complication,” she says.

And it’s even more unusual for a sinus infection to spread through the bone to the brain. Rather, she says, there’s likely something else going on.

“Often there is a history of some type of recent trauma as well, and something is already off about the bone that separates the sinuses from the brain,” Dr. Murray says.

Sinus infections typically last “longer than you would think,” she says, about ten to 14 days, but if a child starts to feel better and then suddenly much worse, she advises parents to take them back to the doctor “right away.” The same is true if any unusual symptoms start to affect a child’s head.

“If a person is being treated for a sinus infection and develops swelling in the face, red or purple discoloration on the face around the eyes, pain with moving the eyes or difficulty moving the eyes, confusion, or uncontrolled vomiting, they should be seen emergently,” Dr. Murray says.

But overall, she says, parents should take comfort in knowing that this case is “incredibly rare.”

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