February 1, 2008

Study finds flu and asthma don’t mix

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Kathryn Miller, M.D.

Study finds flu and asthma don’t mix

Children with asthma are seriously impacted by the flu, and yet they are not getting the flu shot like they should.

That is the finding of a study in the journal Pediatrics authored by Kathryn Miller, M.D., and her colleagues in Vanderbilt's Departments of Pediatrics and Medicine.

“We found that flu causes many hospitalizations and emergency room visits each year in children with asthma, yet less than 30 percent of the children with asthma in this study got their flu shot,” said Miller. “The best way to reduce risk is to get the flu shot, and in households with a child with asthma, everyone who can get a flu shot, should.”

Miller's study is one of several that have come from the New Vaccine Surveillance Network's prospective look at nearly 30,000 children in three large U.S. cities: Nashville, Rochester, N.Y., and Cincinnati.

Data was collected during the 2002 – 2004 flu seasons on 1,400 children, ages 6 months to 5 years who were admitted to the hospital or seen in emergency rooms with flu.

They found that children with the flu who also had asthma were about twice as likely to be hospitalized as children without asthma. They also found that rates of outpatient visits attributable to flu were even higher than hospitalizations, and were particularly higher in children with asthma.

“We think that children with asthma have a greater propensity to get very sick when they are infected with any virus,” Miller said. “But because flu can look like so many other winter viruses, laboratory-confirmed flu is an important strength of our study.

“Flu is one of the few vaccine-preventable respiratory viruses, and vaccination is an important way to protect young children and all persons with asthma.”

Miller said there are several possible explanations for why children with asthma have more influenza medical visits.

“They may be more susceptible to influenza, more likely to have severe illness with influenza infections, more likely to seek medical care for respiratory illnesses, or more likely to be hospitalized than healthy children because of concern for an asthma exacerbation.