Randy Snyder/AP

Children May Be Best Bet for Beating the Flu

September 10, 2008 12:34 PM
by Cara McDonough
Flu shots are now recommended for all children, and a new study shows kids to be the virus’s prime carriers.

Targeting Kids for Better Flu Protection

The change in flu shot recommendations is due to new evidence that children are the key flu spreaders.

Harvard researchers studied the number of adults making trips to emergency rooms due to flu over four winters and found that flu cases were most prevalent in zip codes with the most children, the Associated Press reports. The study showed that, for every 1-percent increase in the child population, there was a 4-percent increase in adult ER visits.

The findings bolster an expanded flu shot recommendation from earlier this year. Previously the flu shot was recommended for children under 5, who can get seriously ill from the flu. But in February the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that children from 6 months to 18 years get the vaccination. The recommendation could expand inoculations to 30 million more school-age children.

Experts hope the measure will protect not only children but adults, too, who otherwise may contract the flu from youngsters. Increased flu shots for children could protect older adults, especially, who are more susceptible to the virus. The theory has yet to be proven, however.

“We’re all very enthusiastic and anticipate seeing an indirect benefit, but that’s something we need to study and carefully watch,” said Dr. Jeanne Santoli of the CDC to the Associated Press.

Related Topic: An improved flu shot

The decision to recommend vaccinations for a wider age range of children is not the only flu shot improvement this year.

For the first time, this year’s flu shot will include three entirely new strains of flu—usually one or two flu strains remains part of the vaccine for several years—in the hopes that the shot will better protect against this year’s strain. Manufacturers are also already shipping out vaccines and hope to have all their doses to medical providers by October, to avoid getting the product to patients too late.

Last year’s flu shot was only 44 percent effective against the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worries that the mismatch will discourage people from getting their flu shot this year, and therefore has ramped up its flu vaccine campaign.

Background: Flu shot recommended for children up to age 5

In 2005, a federal advisory panel recommended that all children from 6 months to 5 years old receive a flu shot every year. Prior to the decision, the flu shot was recommended for children older than 6 months who had certain medical conditions, such as asthma.

The decision was “a small step toward a recommendation that everyone get the flu shot,” USA Today reported in February 2006. The CDC expected that at least 100 million doses of flu vaccine would be produced for the 2006-07 flu season, the highest number ever.

Reference: Cold and flu guide; the CDC


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