Influenza in Children Is More Dangerous Than You Think

Each year 20,000 children are hospitalized due to the flu. In the 2014/2015 winter season alone, 148 children lost their lives to the virus.

With three different types of flu circulating the globe, it is imperative for parents to know the perils of the virus and the necessary steps they can take to protect their children.

What Is Influenza?

Influenza (flu) is caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Human influenza types A and B cause nation-wide epidemics of infection, while influenza type C causes mild illnesses that are not known to cause epidemics.

The flu can be especially harmful to young children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that each year 20,000 children are hospitalized due to the flu. In the 2014/2015 winter season alone, 148 children lost their lives to the virus. As for the 2015/2016 season, there have been 18 child deaths linked to the flu. Flu-related illnesses can be severe in children under 2 years of age. The flu can result in severe complications, such as pneumonia, dehydration, and can exacerbate long-term medical problems for children with the following conditions:

  • Asthma
  • Neurological disorders
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Heart disease
  • Blood disorders
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Kidney disorders
  • Liver disorders
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Weakened immune systems
  • Those receiving long term aspirin therapy

Vaccines

The number one method for flu prevention is vaccination. The CDC advises that all individuals, ages 6 months and older, receive annual flu vaccinations. In a recent TweetChat, the CDC stated:

T1: #Fluvax is needed every yr b/c flu viruses are constantly changing and immunity from fluvax declines over time #FluFreeKids

— CDC Flu (@CDCFlu) March 7, 2016

Preliminary data show this season’s flu vaccine is nearly 60% effective against all circulating viruses so far this season. #FluFreeKids

— CDC Flu (@CDCFlu) March 7, 2016

The recent trivalent flu vaccines for 2015/2016 protect against influenza A H1N1, influenza A H3N2 and an influenza B in the B/Yamagata lineage. The quadrivalent flu vaccine protects against the aforementioned three, as well as an influenza B/Victoria lineage virus. Different vaccine brands cater to different age groups (infants, children, adults). For children between the ages of 6 months and 8 years, two doses of flu vaccines may be necessary. Children younger than 6 months are at an especially high risk of contracting the virus since they should not be vaccinated, thus, it is important for anyone who comes in contact with them to be vaccinated.

Symptoms

Anyone experiencing the following symptoms should limit contact with unvaccinated infants:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches

Prevention

Aside from vaccination, there are several additional ways to help prevent flu infection in children:

  • Teach children proper hand washing methods (or the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer).
  • Remind children to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze and keep their hands away from their eyes, nose, and mouth to avoid spreading the virus.

Sick children should not attend school or daycare. If a parent suspects their child is ill, they should contact their pediatrician.