WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — According to a new study by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center released Thursday, less than 45% of children were vaccinated against the flu during a five-year study period.
“Our research showed that 1-in-6 children under age 5 years who went to an emergency department or clinic with fever and respiratory symptoms during the peak flu seasons had the flu,” stated Katherine Poehling, associate professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study, published in the online edition of the February issue of Pediatrics. “Many of those illnesses could have been prevented by vaccination.”
The researchers found that children less than 6 months of age had the highest hospitalization rates with flu.
The study, funded by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported population-based data on confirmed flu cases in children younger than 5 years old in three counties in Ohio, New York and Tennessee. More than 8,000 children seen in inpatient, emergency department and clinic settings were included during five flu seasons from 2004 through 2009.
During the study period, the researchers found that the overall flu vaccination coverage changed little, whereas the rates of influenza hospitalization and prevalence of influenza among outpatients varied annually. The proportion of infants less than 6 months old diagnosed with flu increased to 48% as compared to 28% in a previous study conducted by the research team from 2000 to 2004.
However, for children between the ages 6 months and 5 years, the proportion diagnosed with the flu remained similar in both studies. These data suggest that doctors’ awareness of the flu among young infants has increased, but hasn’t among older children.
The study also showed that seasonal flu remains an important cause of hospitalization, emergency department and outpatient visits among children and that the use of tools known to reduce flu rates — vaccination and antiviral medications — were underused, Poehling said.
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