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Flu Can Kill Even Healthy Children, Study Finds

Unvaccinated kids are at greater risk, CDC researcher says
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"That's especially true for kids with high-risk medical conditions and for very young children," she explained. "These children are at especially high risk for flu complications."

Laufer, however, said a phone call to the doctor isn't enough. "It's very difficult for a pediatrician on the other side of the phone to understand how sick the child really is," he said.

Parents should take their child to the doctor or emergency department if they're sicker than what one would expect with a common cold, he said.

"Parents should realize that influenza is much more than sniffles," Laufer added. "A kid with influenza is a kid who is very sick, is a kid who is lethargic, has decreased appetite, is not drinking as much and not urinating as much in addition to other flu symptoms," he said.

Wong added that early antiviral treatment is recommended for high-risk children who develop symptoms of influenza. "That's another thing they can talk to their health care provider about," Wong added.

Antiviral drugs include Tamiflu, Relenza, Symmetrel and Flumadine.

In the study, Wong's group found that of the 794 children whose medical history was known, 43 percent had no medical condition that put them at high risk of dying from flu.

As for children with high-risk medical conditions who died, 33 percent had neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy or seizure disorder, and 12 percent had a genetic condition that put them at risk for flu complications.

Asthma, lung disease, heart disease and cancer can also increase a child's odds of dying from flu, the researchers noted.

Each year in the United States, flu causes an estimated 54,000 to 430,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 to 49,000 deaths, with infection rates highest among children, according to the CDC.

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