Children with neurological disorders are at increased risk of dying from the flu, according to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States.
The researchers found that the number of pediatric deaths associated with the H1N1 virus during the 2009 pandemic was five times greater than the average for influenza seasons of previous years.
Of the 336 children under 18 who died this year from complications of the disease, 146 (64%) had a neurological disorder such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy or intellectual disabilities, according to the report.
“The high percentage of deaths associated pediatric neurological disorders during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009 was a stark reminder of the damage that can cause influenza in children with neurological and neurodevelopmental disorders,” said Lyn Finelli, chief of the observation team and response to outbreaks of influenza division of the CDC.
The study found that among children who had any neurological disorder which had information on its vaccination, only 21 of them (23%) had been vaccinated against seasonal flu and only 2 of them (the 3 percent) were fully covered for the pandemic H1N1 2009.
The researchers found that among the most common complications suffered by the children with neurological disorders related to influenza and pneumonia are acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
At least 75% of children with a neurological condition who died of any problem related to the pandemic caused by the H1N1 virus in 2009 also had some other condition that increased their risk of developing complications.
Among these conditions, the CDC study cites some pulmonary or metabolic disorder, as well as heart disease or chromosomal abnormality.
“The flu is particularly dangerous for people who may have problems with muscle function, pulmonary or difficulty coughing, and clearing her airway fluids,” said Georgina Peacock, author of the study and a pediatrician at the National Center on Birth Defects and Disabilities of the CDC.
The report, published in the Journal Pediatrics, stresses the importance of vaccinating children with neurological disorders to protect them from these risks.
To create greater awareness of the problem, the CDC has sealed a partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations working with high-risk groups.
CDC recommends a seasonal flu vaccine for everyone older than six months, especially young children, pregnant women and those who live with or care for people at high risk for influenza-related complications.
The main complications of influenza is the possibility of developing bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes.
Flu season in the United States generally extends from October to May, with higher activity in January and February.