BABIES ARE AT TWICE THE RISK OF HAVING SEVERE FLU
BABIES are at twice the risk of suffering severe flu if they have an older brother or sister, a study found.
Children are 'effective spreaders' and can easily pass viruses onto their vulnerable younger siblings, researchers said.
Flu can be life-threatening in young children because it can cause lung infections, breathing difficulties and high fever, which can lead to fits.
Between three per cent and 11 per cent of babies and toddlers in developed countries acquire flu-associated illnesses each year, placing a heavy burden on health services.
Almost half of all cases of severe flu in babies under six months old are caught from older siblings, according to a study by University College London's Great Ormond Institute of Child Health. Children are 'effective spreaders' and can easily pass viruses onto their vulnerable younger siblings, University College London researchers said.
Experts warned parents the findings showed the importance of getting older children vaccinated to protect babies in the family – who usually are not given a flu vaccine before the age of two.
Lead researcher Dr Pia Hardelid said, “Flu can be a serious infection in very young children but at the moment there is no vaccine approved for babies under six months. This means we need to look at other ways to minimise the risk of infection.”
For those with two or more older siblings, the risk tripled.
There was around one extra hospital admission for every thousand children who had one older sibling. In those with two older siblings, there were two extra admissions per 1 000 children.
Babies born between July and December – who would be young and vulnerable at the start of the flu season – were also at higher risk.
Nasal spray vaccines
Since 2013, nasal spray flu vaccines have been given to children aged between two and nine on the NHS. Some areas are rolling out the vaccine to all primary school-age children.
It is also offered to those aged up to 17 and from six months to two years who are considered high risk because of existing chronic health problems.
The researchers said vaccinating older children could have a protective effect on babies and toddlers. Pregnant women could also have the vaccine to help build up their baby's immunity.
The importance of the flu jab
Dr Hardelid added: “Our study suggests that older siblings pose a risk of serious infection for their baby sisters and brothers.
“The nasal spray vaccine, which is now being offered in GP surgeries and primary schools in the UK, provides a good opportunity to protect the children who receive it, as well as their younger siblings.
“There is not much parents can do about the time of year their baby is born, but women can also help reduce the risk of serious flu for their newborns by taking up the invitation to have a vaccine when they are still pregnant.
“There is some evidence that maternal vaccination during pregnancy can protect young babies from flu infection.”
Rates of hospital admission were also higher for children aged six to 23 months with older siblings, but the association for this age group was much weaker.
Further research will test whether the introduction of the vaccine for children aged two and older can help reduce cases of flu among undertwos.
The study was published in the European Respiratory Journal.