Even healthy kids can die from flu
With flu season quickly approaching, parents may not realize that the flu can be fatal even for healthy children. According to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, 830 children younger than 18 died from complications of the flu between 2004 and 2012. Of those children, 43 percent had no chronic health conditions, such as cerebral palsy, asthma or congenital heart defects.
“Parents often underestimate the seriousness of the flu,” says Dr. Erin O’Brien, Pediatrician at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Illinois. “The flu can be a very severe illness, and perfectly healthy children can become extremely ill. Parents need to be especially careful with babies because they can become ill quickly and develop secondary complications from the flu.”
The CDC report, published in the journal Pediatrics, emphasizes the importance of an annual flu shot for all children. Only nine percent of the children with no chronic health conditions had received a flu shot. The CDC recommends an annual flu shot for everyone six months and older. It is also recommended that pregnant women get the flu shot to deliver immunity to their baby.
“The flu shot is the best preventive measure that parents can take to reduce their child’s risk of becoming hospitalized or dying from the flu,” O’Brien says. “Parents should also make sure all caregivers of their children are vaccinated as well.”
Other ways to prevent the spread of the flu is through frequent hand-washing. Parents should also be mindful of exposing their children to people who are sick at family gathering and other social outings.
“I think many parents don’t think their child is at high risk of the flu if they are at home instead of daycare,” she says. “This is not true because most young children are out and about with their parents. They go to the mall, restaurants and family functions where they can be exposed to people who have the flu.”
According to the CDC report, 63 percent of the children died within seven days of onset of flu-like symptoms. Parents should seek medical attention if their child experiences breathing problems, high fever and lethargic behavior/extreme fatigue.
“These are all signs that they need to contact their child’s physician immediately,” O’Brien says. “Parents need to be vigilant about keeping an eye on their sick child and seek medical help if symptoms are beyond the typical cough and cold.”
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