Youngest US kids most at risk of flu death
A new analysis of seasonal flu deaths in US children in the six seasons that followed the 2009 H1N1 pandemic reveals that children ages two and younger are most at risk, and of children who died, less than a third had been vaccinated against the disease.
Young children’s vulnerability to flu and the gap in vaccination takes on extra significance this flu season, which has already recorded 63 pediatric flu deaths, shows no sign of a peak yet despite an early start, and has reached the flulike illness levels seen during the 2009-2010 pandemic, umn.edu reported.
The new study, done by researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, appeared in an early online edition of Pediatrics.
Flu deaths in children have been notifiable in the US since 2004, which has allowed the CDC to begin keeping more detailed records. Since then, reported numbers have ranged from 37 in the 2011-2012 season to 358 during the H1N1 pandemic season. The CDC has had a universal flu vaccine recommendation in place for those ages six months and older since 2010, and last season the highest vaccination coverage, at 76.3 percent, was in children ages 6 to 23 months.
To look more closely at the latest fatality patterns, the team examined lab-confirmed pediatric flu deaths for six flu seasons between 2010-2011 to 2015-2016.
During that time, 675 deaths were reported in children younger than 18, with an average of 113 deaths per year. Levels were highest in babies younger than 6 months old, followed by kids ages 6 to 23 months old.
Only 31 percent of children age six months and older who died had been vaccinated against flu.
When researchers looked at clinical patterns, they found that in children, flu can kill quickly. About 65 percent died within 7 days of symptom onset. And though children with preexisting medical conditions are known to be at higher risk for flu complications, the team found that half were previously healthy.
Healthy youngsters who died from their flu infections were more likely than peers who had underlying medical conditions to be younger, less vaccinated, die before hospital admission, and have shorter illness durations. As other studies found, Streptococcus and Staphylococcus aureus were the most common bacterial coinfections, which were more common in kids who didn’t have underlying medical conditions.
More than half of the kids who died received antiviral or antibiotic treatment.
The team said it’s not clear why some kids die so quickly from flu, but they said the shorter duration among healthy children might reflect differences in healthcare-seeking behavior or timing of treatment interventions.