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Neurological Disease Raises Risk of Complications from Flu -- Study Supports Annual Flu Vaccination for Children with Neurological Conditions

As another flu season approaches, patients with neurological and neuromuscular disease are especially vulnerable to respiratory failure caused by influenza. Researchers from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia identified this high-risk group of patients, who have recently been added to the list of groups for whom the federal government recommends receiving annual influenza vaccine.

The research is published in the November 2, 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The neurological and neuromuscular diseases studied include cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, muscular dystrophies, spinal muscular atrophy and seizure disorders. “Our findings support the recent decision of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices [ACIP] to add neurological and neuromuscular disease to the list of chronic conditions that warrant annual influenza vaccination,” said study leader Ron Keren, M.D., M.P.H., a pediatrician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “We hope this news will reach parents of children with these diseases, as well as health care providers.”

The ACIP, an expert panel that advises the CDC on national vaccine practice, had previously designated nine groups of chronic medical conditions for which a flu shot is recommended. Among those conditions are asthma, chronic lung disease, heart disease, disorders of hemoglobin such as sickle cell disease, and chronic kidney disease. The Children’s Hospital study considered all those conditions, in addition to neurological and neuromuscular disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and history of prematurity.

The researchers studied the hospital records for 745 children hospitalized at Children’s Hospital for influenza during the 2000 to 2004 fl u seasons. Of that total, 32 children (4 percent) developed respiratory failure and needed mechanical ventilation. Of all the chronic conditions studied, children with neurological and neuromuscular disease were at the highest risk of respiratory failure, followed by chronic pulmonary disease other than asthma, and cardiac disease.

The link between neurological disease and respiratory failure among children with flu was a new finding, but not surprising, said Dr. Keren. “Children with neurological and neuromuscular disease often have diminished pulmonary function and ability to handle secretions at baseline, and therefore are more vulnerable to respiratory complications of influenza infection.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supported this study. Co-authors of the study were Susan E. Coffin, M.D., M.P.H., Theoklis E. Zaoutis, M.D., Anna B. Wheeler, M.D., Daniel J. Licht, M.D., and Xian Qun Luan, M.S., all of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Carolyn B. Bridges, M.D., and Guillermo Herrera, M.D., of the National Immunization Program of the CDC; and Barbara M. Watson, M.B.Ch.B., of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

About The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia:
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was founded in 1855 as the nation’s first pediatric hospital. Through its long-standing commitment to providing exceptional patient care; training new generations of pediatric healthcare professionals and pioneering major research initiatives, Children’s Hospital has fostered many discoveries that have benefited children worldwide. Its pediatric research program is among the largest in the country, ranking second in National Institutes of Health funding. In addition, its unique family-centered care and public service programs have brought the 430-bed hospital recognition as a leading advocate for children and adolescents. For more information, visit www.chop.edu.


 

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