The Danger of Flu to Children
By the Center of Disease Control and Prevention
Flu is more dangerous than the common cold for children. Each year, seasonal flu places a large burden on the health and well-being of children and families.
Children commonly need medical care because of influenza, especially before they turn 5-years-old.
Each year an average of 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized because of influenza complications. Flu seasons vary in severity, however some children will die from flu each year: 345 deaths in children were reported to CDC from April 26, 2009 to May 22, 2010.
Severe influenza complications are most common in children younger than 2- years-old. Children with chronic health problems like asthma and diabetes are at especially high risk of developing serious flu complications.
Seasonal Influenza Vaccination Recommendations
The single best way to protect against seasonal flu and its potential severe complications in children is to get a seasonal influenza vaccine each year. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against three influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. The 2011-2012 flu vaccine protects against the three main viruses that research indicates will cause the most illness this season. It will protect against an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus and an influenza B virus.
CDC recommends that everyone 6-months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine. This includes all children aged 6-months up to their 19th birthday. Vaccination is especially important for children younger than 5 years of age and children of any age with a long-term health condition like asthma, diabetes and heart disease. These children are at higher risk of serious flu complications if they get the flu.
CDC also recommends that people in contact with certain groups of children get a seasonal flu vaccine in order to protect the child (or children) in their lives from the flu.
The following contacts of children are recommended for seasonal influenza vaccination by CDC:
Close contacts of children younger than 5-years-old (people who live with them) should get a flu vaccine.
Out-of-home caregivers (nannies, daycare providers, etc.) of children younger than 5-years-old should get a flu vaccine.
People who live with or have other close contact with a child or children of any age with a chronic health problem (asthma, diabetes, etc.) should get a flu vaccine.
In addition, CDC recommends that all health care workers be vaccinated each year to keep from spreading the flu to their patients.
More information about other people recommended for vaccination, either because they are at high risk for serious flu-related complications, or because they are contacts of high risk people.
Children at Greatest Risk
Certain groups of children are at increased risk for seasonal flu complications. Children at greater risk of serious flu-related complications include:
1. Children younger than 6-months-old
The flu vaccine is not approved for use in infants younger than 6 months old; however, the risk of flu complications is higher in these young infants than it is for any other child age group. The best way to protect children younger than 6 months is to make sure members of their household and their caregivers are vaccinated.
2. Children aged 6-months up to their 5th birthday
It is estimated that each year in the U.S., there are more than 20,000 children younger than 5 years old who are hospitalized due to flu. Even children in this age group who are otherwise healthy are at risk simply because of their age. In addition, children 2-years of age up to their 5th birthday are more likely to be taken to a doctor, an urgent care center, or the emergency room because of flu than healthy older children. To protect their health, all children 6 months and older should be vaccinated against the flu each year. Vaccinating young children, their families, and other caregivers can also help protect them from getting sick.
3. Children aged 6-months and older with chronic health problems, including:
asthma or other problems of the lungs;
chronic kidney disease;
sickle cell anemia; or
long-term aspirin therapy;
any condition that can reduce lung function (cognitive dysfunction, spinal cord injuries, seizure disorders, or other neuromuscular disorders).
When to Get Children Vaccinated
It takes about two-weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection. Influenza season can begin as early as October and is unpredictable. Therefore, CDC recommends vaccination efforts begin as soon as vaccine becomes available to ensure that as many people as possible are protected before flu season begins.