Influenza: A Multipronged Approach to Protecting Our Smallest Patients

Joanne M. Langley, MD, MSc


November 14, 2008


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An infant under 2 years of age has the same chance of being hospitalized with influenza as a person over 65 years of age.[1,2] These children present with illness that we recognize as influenza, such as respiratory distress and fever, but also with illness we don't always recognize, such as dehydration and seizures.[3]

What can we do to protect these young patients?

First, you, the physician, can get your influenza vaccine each year. This will provide direct protection for you, with about a 70% reduction in risk of acquiring influenza.[1,2] Annual receipt of influenza vaccine is increasingly being recognized as a duty of care based on evidence that immunizing care providers reduces the risk of influenza in patients.[2] As opinion leaders, physicians getting their annual flu shots plays a role in the decision of other healthcare providers on your care team to be immunized.[2]

Secondly, you can counsel parents and guardians of young children to ensure that they, and everyone else in their household, are immunized. Maternal immunization reduced laboratory-confirmed influenza by 63% in infants up to 6 months of age, and respiratory illness in mom and baby.[4] Use of infection control measures, like regular hand hygiene and avoiding exposure to those with acute respiratory illness, will also reduce the risk of infection.[5]

Finally, you can encourage annual administration of influenza vaccine to children once they have reached 6 months of age. Together these measures can reduce the chance of influenza infection, with all its associated morbidity, in the youngest and most vulnerable members of our community.

That's my opinion. I'm Dr. Joanne Langley, Professor of Pediatrics and Community Health and Epidemiology, at Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre.



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