Remember back to the mid-late 1970s. Do you remember Reye's Syndrome, the dread disease "caused by aspirin" in young people.
The diagnosis for Reye's Syndrome was based on history and symptoms. If the patient had experienced a viral infection in the past three weeks and showed impaired liver and cognitive function, it was diagnosed as Reye's Syndrome.
By 1977 the syndrome was linked to aspirin since 80% of the patients diagnosed with Reye's Syndrome had taken aspirin in the previous 21 days. It was even suggested that previous use of aspirin should be considered as a factor when making a diagnosis of Reye's Syndrome.
Authoritative sources informed us that off-patent aspirin was killing kids on box-car lots and we needed to switch to (significantly more expensive) proprietary Tylenol and Motrin "for the children". Those sources published recommendations in 1980 that children younger than 14 not be given aspirin, ever.
Old-time country doctors scoffed and continued to advise their patients to use aspirin, even on children, when fevers went over 101F and for teething issues. Those old-timers noted that nearly 100% of kids were given aspirin for influenza and that only 80% who developed Reye's Syndrome reported aspirin use. It was the equivalent of blaming breathing or drinking milk as a causal agent.
Diagnosis rates for Reye's Syndrome fell off of a cliff in 1981. There were 555 cases of Reyes Syndrome diagnosed in the flu-season of late 1979/80. In the sixteen years that followed there were approximately 1200 cases diagnosed the the yearly case-dropping below 37/year in 1987.
Currently, between one and two cases are diagnosed in the United States every year.
As to the decline of Reye syndrome, recent literature data reveal that this is related to more accurate modern diagnosis of infectious, metabolic or toxic disease, reducing the percentage of idiopathic or true cases of Reye syndrome.
Reye syndrome is a non-specific descriptive term covering a group of heterogeneous disorders. Moreover, not only the use of acetylsalicylic acid but also of antiemetics is statistically significant in Reye syndrome cases. Both facts weaken the validity of the epidemiological surveys suggesting a link with acetylsalicylic (aspirin) acid.