NEWARK—With swine flu and seasonal flu on the rise last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that everyone ages 6 months of age and older get vaccinated early this year.
Last flu season (2009-2010) saw the emergence of the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus (previously called “novel H1N1” or “swine flu”). While not certain, the CDC reports that it is likely that 2009 H1N1 viruses will continue to spread along with seasonal viruses in the U.S. during the 2010-2011 flu season.
The 2010-2011 flu vaccine will protect against three different flu viruses: an H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and the H1N1 virus that caused so much illness last season, the CDC reports.
Most Americans have had some experience with seasonal flu, a respiratory illness that strikes annually. Seasonal flu is not a benign illness — it kills about 36,000 and hospitalizes over 200,000 people in the United States every year. It poses an important threat to the unvaccinated, especially young children.
“Children are inherently more at risk because they congregate in groups,” reports Maria Espiritu-Fuller, M.D.MPH, Director of Infection Control at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey. “Influenza in children of all ages can cause severe infections leading to missed school, doctor visits and hospitalizations. Hospitalization rates for preschoolers are similar to the hospitalization rates among high-risk adults.”
Federal health officials have expanded the age range for recommended seasonal flu vaccination of children. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine. Vaccination is especially important for children younger than 5 years of age and children of any age with a long-term health condition like asthma, diabetes and heart disease. These children are at higher risk of serious flu complications if they get the flu.
Children younger than two years old are more likely than older children to be hospitalized with serious complications if they become ill with influenza. These can include pneumonia, dehydration, and other bacterial infections. In some cases, complications can lead to death. Each year in the U.S., there are more than 20,000 children age five and younger hospitalized due to flu.
Limiting the Spread of Flu
Studies have indicated that school children are the population group most responsible for transmission of contagious respiratory viruses. They have a high attack rate of influenza infection because they have limited pre-existing immunity and once infected, transmit influenza viruses to many others even before they have symptoms.
Children gather in groups– in school, in daycare settings, on playgrounds — and often are unintentionally careless when it comes to their personal hygiene. While it is challenging to teach very young children to cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough and to wash their hands frequently, these efforts are the best method preventing transmission of germs, the CDC reports.
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