PHILADELPHIA - The influenza season began unusually early in 2003-2004, with some cases reported as early as October. Several states reported severe complications in otherwise healthy children. In a first-of-its-kind survey, researchers tapped into the Infectious Diseases Society of America's Emerging Infections Network (EIN) to conduct a rapid assessment of pediatric influenza complications. The results were presented here today at the annual meeting of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, an organization of the nation's leading experts on healthcare associated infections, resistant organisms and other adverse events that occur in the healthcare setting.
A total of 7,550 cases, 1,258 hospitalizations (113 requiring intubation to assist with breathing) and 18 deaths were reported. However, it is unknown whether these findings are comparable to or surpass the complications in previous influenza seasons.
"These statistics emphasize that influenza can and does cause serious, life-threatening complications and underscore how important it is to be vaccinated," said Laura Jean Podewils, MS, PhD, an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer for the Centers for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who reported results of the survey at the SHEA meeting.
A total of 122 of 250 pediatricians responded to the survey, with 81 percent reporting seeing children with laboratory confirmed influenza during the current season. Encepholopathy was reported in 39 patients, and secondary bacterial infections in 151 cases, including seven infections attributed to MRSA. Twenty-three percent of responding physicians reported a shortage of kits to test for influenza and 41 percent reported a shortage of influenza vaccines.
"Although our survey provides only a `snapshot' of the problem, networks such as EIN are an important means to gauge the magnitude of important public health issues," said Podewils. "CDC will continue to work with physicians and state health departments to undertake the necessary studies to determine the true burden of illness in children."
Looking forward to next flu season, CDC has moved from encouraging vaccination to recommending annual vaccination against influenza for all children ages 6 months - 23 months. CDC already has long recommended annual influenza vaccination for all children of any age for certain chronic medical conditions. Others who should be vaccinated are people 50 and older, people with other medical conditions that might make them susceptible to complications, the household contacts of people in these risk groups, and all healthcare workers."
Researchers urged the public to become more aware of the potential seriousness of influenza and to take steps, including vaccination, to protect themselves and their families in the future.
The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) was organized in 1980 to foster the development and application of the science of healthcare epidemiology, which is broadly defined as activities designed to study and/or improve patient care outcomes. Healthcare epidemiology includes a variety of disciplines and activities including epidemiologic and laboratory investigation, surveillance, risk reduction, policy, education and cost-benefit assessment.