Flu Deaths Among Young, Healthy and Unvaccinated
The flu is predictably unpredictable. Each year we know it’s coming and yet people – sometimes even children – will fall ill and die. We just can’t predict when it will arrive, how severe it will be or how many will die as a result. Yesterday’s news, included reports of four influenza cases in Michigan and the first flu related fatality in LA County, remind us that the 2013-2014 influenza season is upon us. As prepared as I am, this USA Today headline seemed to sum up my constant concern as a mother: Even Healthy Kids Can Die From Flu Complications
The article highlighted details of a new report published in Pediatrics entitled Influenza-Associated Pediatric Deaths in the United States, 2004-2012.
Some of the most notable statistics from the report include the following:
The flu is fatal to children: 830 kids died from flu-related complications between October 2004 and September 2012. Their median age was 7.
Healthy kids die from flu: 43% of the children who died from flu associated deaths were otherwise healthy and didn’t have high-risk medical conditions. Children without medical conditions were more likely to die before hospital admission and 35% of pediatric deaths during this period occurred either at home or on their way to the hospital.
Vaccination is your best preventive measure: Most flu associated deaths occurred among children who were NOT vaccinated.
Some people are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu: Older people, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease), as well as those who live in facilities such as nursing homes, should be especially vigilant against the flu since they are at greater risk of complications. However, it is interesting to note that the risk of influenza associated hospitalization in young children is similar to the risk known for older adults. Something that many parents fail to realize.
In light of this report and other flu related data from last season, I’m relieved that my children have already been vaccinated. When I schedule their appointments each year I’m reminded of the following:
We know and love plenty of people whose health is fragile, such as newborn babies, pregnant women and those undergoing cancer treatment. Last year my daughter’s 13-year-old friend, and trick-or-treat companion, was undergoing cancer treatment. This year my father in law is battling cancer. And we’ll be seeing several family members who are either pregnant or have young children over the upcoming holidays. Then there’s my 90-year-old aunt. She may not have any underlying health conditions, but a bout of the flu could certainly land her in the hospital. By getting ourselves vaccinated we are also helping to protect other vulnerable members of our communities from falling ill with the flu.
We’ve also witnessed the severity and unpredictability of the flu over the years. My husband’s co-worker, a healthy young man in his early 30’s, succumbed to the flu years ago. My own daughter was a victim of H1N1 during that pandemic year. My best friend’s son was hospitalized two times with influenza. And how could I forget the personal stories from Families Fighting Flu and Shot by Shot of children lost to influenza. As parents, we vaccinate our children to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to protect them from a dangerous illness that could possibly result in death.
And if you’re already preparing to explain why you won’t get yourself or your family vaccinated, than I have just one request. Check out Tara Haelle’s grand effort to “set the record straight” with her thorough take down of almost every flu vaccine myth ever heard. As a science writer, Tara’s colossal post lists 25 flu vaccine myths and then literally attacks each of them in detail. With a grand total of 109 links, more than half of which link directly to peer-reviewed studies in medical research, your bound to find the scientific response to anything you’ve ever wanted to know about influenza vaccine.
To find out more about why flu vaccination matters, listen to a few personal stories compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.