The Most Serious Flu Consequences

Flu deaths among children included those without underlying medical conditions

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) It's flu season again, and there are ways to protect your children against the flu. A recent study revealed how serious the flu can be.

The flu is a common illness that comes around every year. Yet it can lead to serious complications and even death.

These deaths have occurred even in children who did not have underlying medical conditions, this study reported.

The flu vaccine is recommended by the CDC for all children aged 6 months and older.

"Ask your child's pediatrician about the flu vaccine."

This study, led by Karen K. Wong, MD, MPH, of the Influenza Division of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), looked at how many flu-related children's deaths occurred over seven flu seasons.

The researchers gathered data on all deaths in children aged 18 and younger who had a laboratory-confirmed influenza infection during the 2004-2005 through 2011-2012 flu seasons.

During those flu seasons, a total of 830 children died from the flu. The average age of the children was 7 years old.

Just over a third of these children (35 percent) died before they were admitted to the hospital.

The researchers had medical history information on 794 of the children, and 43 percent of them had no pre-existing, high-risk medical conditions.

One-third of the children who died (33 percent) had neurologic disorders, and 12 percent had genetic or chromosomal disorders.

The children who were most likely to die before being admitted to the hospital were those who had no underlying medical conditions.

Children without a high-risk medical condition were about twice as likely to die from the flu before being admitted to the hospital.

They were also 1.6 times more likely (60 percent more likely) than children with high-risk medical conditions to die from the flu within three days of their first symptoms.

"Influenza can be fatal in children with and without high-risk medical conditions," the researchers wrote.

"These findings highlight the importance of recommendations that all children should receive annual influenza vaccination to prevent influenza," they wrote. "Children who are hospitalized, who have severe illness or who are at high risk of complications (younger than 2 or with medical conditions) should receive antiviral treatment as early as possible."

According to Thomas Seman, MD,  a pediatrician at North Shore Pediatrics in Danvers, Mass., one reason children are at a greater risk for contracting the flu is that they play with one another.

"Furthermore, their immune system is not as immunologically experienced as people who are older than them," he said. "We often see typically very healthy children get suddenly ill by less than aggressive organisms."

But influenza is an aggressive organism.

"With the flu bug being a very strong organism, it's not a surprise that we see a large number of healthy children be seriously affected by such a virus," Dr. Seman said. "It is extremely important that we vaccinate as many children as possible."

High vaccination rates also protects those who cannot get the vaccine, he said.

"For those not eligible for vaccination, namely the under 6 month olds, all of those around the child should be vaccinated to protect that baby," Dr. Seman said. "Let's take care of our greatest asset – our children."

This study was published October 28 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded internally at the CDC. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
October 27, 2013
Last Updated:
October 31, 2013