Flu can be serious for kids with special needs

flu-shots-signIt is very important that children with special needs get a flu shot. They are especially at risk for serious complications that can be life threatening, if they get the flu.

Which children are most at risk?

Children younger than 5 years of age and children of any age with a long-term health condition are at high risk of complications from flu. High risk conditions include:

• Developmental disabilities (including a moderate to severe developmental delay)
• Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions, such as disorders of the brain and spinal cord, cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability (mental retardation), muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury.
• Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)
• Asthma
• Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
• Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
• Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)
• Kidney disorders
• Liver disorders
• Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
• Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids)
• Children who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy.

Children in the high risk group are more likely to stay sick longer and have a more severe case of the flu, than children who are not in the high risk group. In fact, of all children who died from complications from the flu in 2009, nearly two thirds had a neurologic disorder.

A recent study  shows that many children with neurological disabilities did not receive a flu shot during the 2011-2012 flu season. The Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AIDD), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) urge health care providers and parents to vaccinate children against the flu, especially if they are in the high risk group.

Flu shot or nasal spray?

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu vaccine. But, children with neurologic conditions and kids under the age of 2 should ONLY get the flu shot and NOT the nasal spray vaccine.

There are special vaccination instructions for children ages 6 months through 8 years. Ask your child’s health care provider or see the CDC’s recommendations.

What about babies under 6 months?

If your baby is under 6 months of age, he is too young to receive the flu vaccine. So, be sure that everyone in your household and those who come in contact with your baby is vaccinated against the flu to help keep your baby healthy.  Check out our website to learn ways to protect your infant.

Get yourself vaccinated – for your child’s sake

If your child has a chronic condition, it is even more important that you and all of your child’s caregivers receive the flu vaccine. You need to be at your best to be able to care for your child. If you are pregnant, it is also very important and recommended that you get a flu vaccine.

What if your child still gets the flu?

If your child gets the flu, be sure that he sees his health care provider as soon as he becomes ill. Treatment with antiviral drugs within 48 hours is recommended, to reduce the chance of becoming seriously ill.  Know the symptoms of flu:  fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.

Bottom line

Each year an average of 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized because of flu complications. No one likes getting the flu.  But, it is vitally important that children with special needs get the flu shot. For them, getting the flu can be especially severe. So, talk to your child’s health care provider about getting your child immunized now.

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” on the menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

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