Children across Europe have been developing narcolepsy at increased rates since 2009—and experts fear the crisis may be linked to a GlaxoSmithKline swine flu vaccine. The incurable sleep disorder has surged in Sweden, Finland, Norway, France, and Britain, experts say, and it can take a devastating toll: Reuters recounts the case of a 14-year-old who frequently wakes up paralyzed, struggles to stay awake during the day, and can't enjoy time with friends "because when I do I get cataplexies and collapse."
Some 30 million Europeans got the Pandemrix vaccine in 2009-2010, and 795 kids have reported narcolepsy since; scientists say that those who have been vaccinated risk developing the disease up to 13 times more than those who didn't get the shot. Still, GlaxoSmithKline and other experts say more research is needed to verify that the vaccine is the culprit; some fear a false link like the one reported between the MMR vaccine and autism, notes a researcher. But European officials have already banned Pandemrix use in people under 20. The shot wasn't administered in the US because it is an adjuvanted vaccine—one containing a booster. (Read more swine flu stories.)