Although childhood deaths from the flu are unusual, they do happen. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released a report stating that 115 children died of flu-related causes last year. Less than a quarter of the victims had received the flu vaccine. Experts said that the vaccine more than likely could have saved the lives of these children.
Even when a child does get the flu, if they received the flu shot beforehand, they still have an advantage.
“The influenza vaccine prevents the flu,” said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the CDC. “And if someone does come down with the flu, the vaccine can help avoid serious complications.”
States began requiring that flu related deaths in kids and teens be reported in 2004. The new data revealed that nearly half the children who died of influenza between Sept. 1, 2010, and Aug. 31, 2011, had been healthy. They had no high-risk medical conditions that would have made them more susceptible to flu complications.
Antiviral drugs can also help when a child has the flu. Researchers noted that 94 children died in the hospital of flu-related causes, and only half of those children had been prescribed antiviral drugs while sick.
Being young and strong does not make protect you from the flu. In fact, younger – immune systems put children at a higher risk.
“Immunization is essential,” said Dr. Lewis Goldfrank, the chairman of emergency medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center. “The fact that we have access to vaccine is a great privilege and opportunity for all. Influenza is preventable, and as these children unfortunately demonstrate, it can be a lethal disease for young children even if they are not previously shown to have serious co-morbidities.”
The flu shot is safe for anyone over the age of 6 months – whether you are healthy or living with a chronic disease. The CDC recommends that everyone get a flu shot once a year. Pregnant mothers-to-be should also receive the flu-shot and are encouraged to do so by the American Obstetrics and Gynecology Association. A pregnant woman’s newborn is also protected from the flu when she gets her flu shot.
While campaigns against vaccines persist, associating them with autism and Alzheimer’s, doctors refute such assumptions, and implore hesitating parents to talk to their doctors. “The vaccine is very safe and effective,” said Allison Aiello, Associate Professor of epidemiology, at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “There is a myth that the vaccine causes individuals to get influenza. This is not true and side effects of the vaccine are very rare. The most common side effect is simply soreness at the site of injection. Benefits greatly outweigh any risks associated with the vaccine.”
Vaccines have taken a bad rap in the last few years, but diseases that were once eliminated in this country are beginning to make a comeback. A recent outbreak of measles in the Unite States shows how easily unvaccinated children can spread a disease to others. ”Many vaccines are so embedded into our way of life… permitting people to assume that life is good without vaccines,” said Goldfrank. “Were we to have infant mortality, deaths at 5 years old, it would be dramatically different.”
If you haven’t done so already, check with your pediatrician about getting your child his or her flu shot now.