Flu Shot in Children Can Reduce Risk of Infection-Related Hospitalization

With news of a Las Vegas-area child’s flu-related death, a new study finds that kids who receive the flu shot have a much lower risk of being hospitalized for the illness.

As Southern Nevada reports its first pediatric influenza death of the 2017-2018 flu season, a new study out of Canada has found that children who receive the flu vaccine are far less likely to be hospitalized with the virus.

For Week 45 ending November 11, 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an increase in flu activity since the prior week. The weekly FluView report notes that 9 states —Arkansas, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Washington – along with Guam and Puerto Rico, reported regional influenza activity, which is up from 6 states and Guam the prior week. No pediatric flu deaths were reported as of Week 45. Since the 2004-2005 flu season, the United States has seen 37 to as many as 171 flu-related pediatric deaths each season.

On November 20th, the Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD) reported the first pediatric flu death of the 2017-2018 season in Clark County, releasing only that the death occurred in a child in the 0-4 age group. Health officials with SNHD say that they’ve seen 78 confirmed flu cases as of November 11th and that 43% of those recently visiting the emergency department for influenza-like illness were children in the 0-4 age group. The CDC notes that children younger than 5 years are at higher risk for developing serious complications due to the flu. “A flu-related death is a tragic reminder that influenza can be a serious illness,” said SNHD chief health officer Joe Iser, MD, in a recent statement. “Young children, older adults, and people with certain health conditions may be more at risk for complications. With the holiday season approaching, we want to remind everyone to get a flu shot, and to practice healthy habits to protect yourself and your family.”

A study released earlier this year by the CDC found that flu vaccination cuts a child’s risk of dying from influenza in half for children with underlying health conditions, and by almost two-thirds for healthy children. Now, in a new study published in the journal PLOS One, researchers from Public Health Ontario and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto have found that children who receive the seasonal flu shot experience a lower risk of hospitalization from serious complications from the illness. The study looked at specimens collected from 9,982 patient hospitalizations among children 6 to 59 months, from the 2010-2011 flu season through the 2013-2014 flu season. During the study period, 12.8% of specimens tested positive for influenza.

Over the course of the 4 flu seasons, children who were fully vaccinated against the flu saw a 60% drop in their risk for hospitalization due to the virus, while children who had received just one dose of the vaccine in their first flu season had a 39% drop in hospitalization risk. The highest rate of protection occurred in fully vaccinated children aged 24 to 59 months, who had a 67% reduction in risk of flu hospitalization. “Influenza can cause serious illness, especially in young children, but there hasn’t been a lot of research that has examined the magnitude of the influenza vaccine’s effectiveness at preventing kids from getting really sick and being hospitalized,” says senior author Jeff Kwong, MD, in a recent PHO press release. “This research paper helps fill that gap by showing how effective the influenza vaccine can be at protecting young kids against serious complications from influenza infections.”

The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for all healthy children aged 6 months and older, emphasizing that children younger than 5 years — particularly those younger than 2 years – are at higher risk of serious influenza complications.

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