CDC: Flu vaccination cuts children's risk for intensive care hospitalization

Though the flu season has already peaked and is nearly over, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommends that people get vaccinated if they have not done so this season, because flu virus activity can continue as late as May.

In fact, flu vaccines reduce a child's risk of intensive care hospitalization related to the flu by 74%, according to a CDC study published recently in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Children younger than 5 years and children of any age with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes or developmental delays are at particular risk of serious flu complications. Previous studies estimate that up to 7 per 10,000 children younger than 18 are hospitalized annually for flu-related reasons. The CDC recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone 6 months and older, especially for high-risk children.

The study looked at the medical records of 216 children age 6 months through 17 years admitted to 21 pediatric intensive care units in the U.S. during the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 flu seasons. Though flu vaccination was found to significantly reduce the risk of hospital admission, only 18% of children admitted to the PICU for flu-related reasons in the study had been fully vaccinated. More than half--55%--of cases in the study had at least one underlying chronic medical condition that put them at higher risk of serious flu-related complications.

"The 11 children included in this study who were fully vaccinated and admitted to the PICU with severe influenza disease remind us that the performance of influenza vaccines must continue to improve," the study authors write.

While vaccination may not always prevent flu illness, it can protect against more serious side effects of the flu, according to the CDC.

"These study results underscore the importance of an annual flu vaccination, which can keep your child from ending up in the intensive care unit," said Dr. Alicia Fry, a medical officer in CDC's Influenza Division, in a CDC statement.

- read the press release
- see the study abstract in the Journal of Infectious Diseases