Study clarifies children at risk for influenza complications

Researchers at the University of Oxford called on the United States, United Kingdom and the World Health Organization recently to add children born prematurely to the priority group for the seasonal flu vaccine.

Dr. Kay Wang and his colleagues at the university analyzed the severity of influenza and related viruses on different groups of children. They found that children born prematurely are at greater risk to complications from the flu. 

The data was gathered from 27 different studies of 14,086 children under ambulatory and primary care. Of those, 3,086 of the children already had underlying health conditions.

The researchers said seven studies of 3,142 children showed that premature birth increases the patients’ risk of hospitalization by twice as much.

Despite the increased risks for prematurely born children in the United States and the UK, the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines do not include prematurely born children as a priority group.

"Until now, guidelines highlighting groups at greater risk of developing complications from influenza, such as pneumonia, have been based on consensus opinion rather than on systematic assessment of the evidence,”   Wang said. "Considering that around 10 percent (12.9 million) of the world's babies are born prematurely (before 37 weeks gestation) -- with preterm delivery rates of around 6 percent in Europe, 11 percent in North America and 12 percent in Africa -- it's a significant public health issue and has major implications for policy makers."

Researchers also found evidence supporting the fact that children diagnosed with neurological disorders, diabetes, sickle cell anemia and immunosuppression have an increased chance of influenza and related complications.

Children who may not be at increased risk of influenza complications include those with respiratory (such as asthma) and obesity issues.

"Policymakers need to be aware of which groups of children should be prioritised when delivering interventions (e.g., flu vaccination and antiviral drugs) to prevent influenza and influenza-related complications, particularly during influenza epidemics and pandemics,” Wang said.

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