PHILADELPHIA - Earlier reports of severe influenza outbreaks among children this season are reflected in the experience of one children's hospital in Texas, which reported a dramatic increase in cases of the flu, serious complications and deaths, even among otherwise healthy children who normally are not considered at high risk. The information was 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.
"Last year [2002-2003], we saw our very first case of flu on November 30 and saw a total of 97 cases for the season; this year we had seen a total of 191 cases by November 30, and a total of 722 for the season - a more than seven-fold increase," said Barbara Sercely, RN, BSN, infection control nurse at Children's Medical Center Dallas.
In the Texas experience, co-infections were frequent complications, including 44 children with pneumonia, of which 31 were bacterial pneumonia and 13 viral pneumonia. Five children developed blood stream infections and there were three deaths.
"One death was a 20-month-old with other medical conditions, one was a child with asthma, but one death was in a child who was healthy until she caught the flu," Sercely said. "These statistics underscore that the flu can be a serious disease, and the importance of vaccination."
Among children who were available for follow-up, only 18 of 126 patients who were eligible for vaccine had been vaccinated.
In October, the CDC expanded its recommendations for vaccination to include all children ages 6 months to 23 months for the 2004 -2005 influenza season. For the 2003-2004 season, the CDC stated that vaccination for children aged 6-23 months was "encouraged when feasible." Others who should be vaccinated are people 65 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.
"In my experience, this was the worst year ever," Sercely said. "Influenza is so unpredictable. Next year's vaccine is going to reflect the variant strain we saw this year. We're hoping for the best. It is so sad to see people, especially children, die of a preventable disease."
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.