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Children with asthma and flu are more likely to end up in the hospital

Children with asthma who get the flu are more likely to have a hospital stay than healthy children infected with the flu, according to a recent study. Researchers looked at three counties' influenza hospitalizations for children aged 6 to 59 months from October 2000 to September 2004.

Children with asthma had about four times as many hospitalizations and twice as many outpatient visits when they came down with the flu than when healthy children succumbed to the flu. The average annual hospitalization rate for children with asthma was 1 case per 1,000 children, while that rate was .4 per 1,000 for healthy children. Outpatient visit rates were similar for the two groups during the 2002-2003 flu season, but rose in the 2003-2004 season (316 cases per 1,000 children with asthma versus 152 cases per 1,000 healthy children).

The authors posit that children with asthma may be more susceptible to the flu, may have more severe illness when they get the flu, or their parents may be more likely to seek care because of flu symptoms. Additionally, these children may more frequently end up in the hospital because of concerns the flu will aggravate their asthma.

Although immunization for influenza is recommended for children with asthma, just 27 percent of parents of a child with asthma ensured their child received the flu vaccine. In contrast, 12 percent of healthy children seen as inpatients and 15 percent seen as outpatients were immunized. The authors suggest that having these estimates of the influenza burden may improve vaccination rates for healthy children and children who have asthma. This study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS13833).

See "Influenza burden for children with asthma," by E. Kathryn Miller, M.D., M.P.H., Marie R. Griffin, M.D., M.P.H., Kathryn M. Edwards, M.D., and others in the January 2008 Pediatrics 121(1), pp. 1-8.

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