Children, even those
without severe medical conditions, can die from the flu in as little as three
days after symptoms appear, US health officials warn.
Between 2004 and 2012, flu
complications killed 830 children in the United States, many of whom were
otherwise healthy, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and
Most striking is that 35%
of these children died before being hospitalised or within the first three days
of developing symptoms, according to the report published in Paediatrics.
"We found these
influenza-related deaths can occur in children with and without medical
conditions and in children of all ages, and that very few of these children
have been vaccinated," said lead author Dr Karen Wong, a CDC medical
Researchers who reviewed
those deaths found that only 22% with a high-risk medical condition and just 9%
without a significant medical condition had been vaccinated.
Wong doesn't know why so
many children die so fast. "About a third of these children die within the
first three days of their first reported symptoms," she said.
Lack of knowledge
One expert wasn't surprised
that many otherwise healthy children who died did so before being admitted to
"First, parents don't
realise that flu can be fatal," said Dr Marcelo Laufer, a paediatric
infectious diseases specialist at Miami Children's Hospital.
Second, parents of children
with chronic diseases "know the system better, so they come earlier than
healthy patients," he said.
Because flu can progress so
quickly, prevention is really the best strategy, Wong said. "And that's
why we recommend every child 6 months or older get vaccinated every year,"
Because an infant under 6
months of age can't be given flu vaccine, Wong said it is vital that pregnant
women get a flu shot to help protect their newborn, and that everyone likely to
be near the baby also be vaccinated so they can't pass flu to the infant.
Especially high risk
Wong said children who get
the flu need to be watched carefully. She recommends getting in touch with the
child's doctor when symptoms start.
true for kids with high-risk medical conditions and for very young
children," she explained. "These children are at especially high risk
for flu complications."
Laufer, however, said a
phone call to the doctor isn't enough. "It's very difficult for a paediatrician
on the other side of the phone to understand how sick the child really
is," he said.
Parents should take their
child to the doctor or emergency department if they're sicker than what one
would expect with a common cold, he said.
"Parents should realise
that influenza is much more than sniffles," Laufer added. "A kid with
influenza is a kid who is very sick, is a kid who is lethargic, has decreased
appetite, is not drinking as much and not urinating as much in addition to
other flu symptoms," he said.
Anti-viral treatment recommended
Wong added that early anti-viral
treatment is recommended for high-risk children who develop symptoms of
influenza. "That's another thing they can talk to their health care
provider about," Wong added.
Anti-viral drugs include
Tamiflu, Relenza, Symmetrel and Flumadine.
In the study, Wong's group
found that of the 794 children whose medical history was known, 43% had no
medical condition that put them at high risk of dying from flu.
As for children with
high-risk medical conditions who died, 33% had neurological conditions such as
cerebral palsy or seizure disorder, and 12% had a genetic condition that put
them at risk for flu complications.
Asthma, lung disease, heart
disease and cancer can also increase a child's odds of dying from flu, the
Each year in the United States,
flu causes an estimated 54 000 to 430 000 hospitalisations and 3000 to 49 000
deaths, with infection rates highest among children, according to the CDC.
For more information on
children and flu, visit the US Centres for
Disease Control and Prevention.