Pediatric deaths from influenza rising

January 23, 2013

Twenty-nine children have died in the influenza outbreak that now is widespread in 48 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The pediatric deaths so far compare with 122 that occurred during last year’s flu season.

Twenty-nine children have died in the influenza outbreak that now is widespread in 48 states, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The pediatric deaths so far compare with 122 that occurred during the 2011-2012 flu season.

The predominant strains of flu circulating this year are influenza A (H3N2), the same strain that in 2003-2004 caused 153 pediatric deaths, and influenza B. Young children and the elderly are disproportionately susceptible to H3N2 influenza; however, the current flu vaccine is a good match for this season’s strains.

Influenza causes fever, cough, fatigue, body aches, and runny nose. The flu vaccine offers the most protection against contracting influenza or it reduces severity of symptoms. The CDC recommends that everyone aged 6 months and older get vaccinated, but vaccination is especially urgent for children, pregnant women, those with chronic illnesses, and persons aged 65 and older.

Over-the-counter preparations can relieve symptoms of influenza, but there are 2 prescription antiviral medications that if started within 48 hours of first symptoms can reduce both severity and course of the disease. Antivirals oseltamivir and zanamivir are prescribed for early treatment of confirmed or suspected cases of influenza. The prescription drugs also can benefit patients hospitalized with severe, complicated, or progressive illness. Oseltamivir was recently approved for treatment of influenza in children aged 2 weeks and older.

Flu season usually peaks in February but often extends into spring. Influenza activity is still rising in parts of the country, yet some regions already are seeing rates beginning to fall.

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