Some Kids Can Die from Flu

Neurological disorders put children at higher risk of death from H1N1 flu

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) The best thing a person can do to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot. Just that simple. And yes, getting the vaccine is especially important for children at higher risk of dying from the flu.

A recent study in Pediatrics found that, in 2009, children with neurological disorders were especially at high risk for death from the H1N1 flu.

"Get a flu shot every year."

This study, led by Lenee Blanton, MPH, of the Influenza Division at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at the children who died from flu who also had an underlying neurological condition.

A total of 336 children who died from the H1N1 flu had information available regarding possible underlying conditions, and 68 percent of these children (227) had at least one condition that raised their risk of complications from the flu.

The most common underlying condition among these children were neurological disorders, which were found in 146 (64 percent) of the children with any underlying condition.

Yet only 21 of these kids (23 percent) had received the seasonal flu vaccine, and only 2 children were fully vaccinated for the 2009 H1N1.

Vaccines are never 100 percent effective, but they provide exceptional protection and dramatically decrease a person's risk of becoming ill with the flu.

"The high percentage of pediatric deaths associated with neurologic disorders that occurred during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic was a somber reminder of the harm that flu can cause to children with neurologic and neurodevelopmental disorders," said Lyn Finelli, DrPh, chief of the surveillance and outbreak response team in CDC’s Influenza Division.

The neurologic conditions children had were divided into three categories: neurodevelopmental disorders, epilepsy and neuromuscular disorders, such as muscular dystrophy.

Neurodevelopmental disorders, such as cerebral palsy or an intellectual disability, were the most common type of neurological conditions found in these children.

These children with neurodevelopmental disorders had the flu for longer, on average, than the other children with underlying conditions had before they died from the H1N1 virus.

They also usually died in the hospital, not at home or in the emergency room.

Children with neurological disorders had a higher risk as well for developing a flu-related complication, especially pulmonary (lung) disorders, which occurred in 48 percent of the kids with a neurological disorder.

The most common complications were pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

“Flu is particularly dangerous for people who may have trouble with muscle function, lung function or difficulty coughing, swallowing or clearing fluids from their airways,” said co-author Georgina Peacock, MD, MPH.

“These problems are sometimes experienced by children with neurologic disorders."

The CDC researchers concluded that children with a neurologic disorder were more likely to die from the H1N1 flu. In fact, 43 percent of all the children who died from the H1N1 virus in 2009 had a neurologic disorder.

Therefore, any children with a neurologic condition such as cerebral palsy or other disorders that affect a child's brain or development should especially get a flu shot each year.

If a child with a neurologic disorder shows flu-like symptoms during flu season, they should be taken to a pediatrician or emergency department.

The study was published August 29 in the journal Pediatrics at the same time that the information was released by the CDC, who funded the study. The authors stated no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 27, 2012
Last Updated:
October 5, 2012