This flu season virus hit most of the U.S. simultaneously, and the severe H3N2 strain has put many in the hospital. And while we don’t know yet whether flu-related deaths are actually more common this year than average, we do know that 80 percent of the children who have died thus far weren’t vaccinated.
Every year, only about 60 percent of kids under 18 get the flu shot, not including those under six months of age who are too young to get the vaccine. That’s actually better than adults, who average around 40 percent coverage, but many parents clearly don’t feel the shot is a priority. No one wants their kid to die from the flu. So what’s a scared caregiver to do?
Why are so many children dying from the flu this year?
We don’t know yet whether this season is particularly deadly. Data on influenza-related death lags a few weeks behind our other surveillance information, because often autopsy reports have to filter through the system before arriving in the CDC’s database.
Right now, we know of 53 children who have died from the flu so far. Dan Jernigan, Director of the Influenza Division at the CDC, says the total deaths have ranged from 37 to 171 during normal flu seasons. “The highest was during the 2009 pandemic, where 358 pediatric death were reported,” he says. As for this year, he explains that “only around 20 percent of these pediatric deaths had been vaccinated, and half of these children were otherwise healthy.” Just two of those deaths were babies 0-5 months old, which is too young to get the flu shot.
That all sounds terrifying to parents, but the CDC confirms that the best way to protect your kids is to vaccinate them and teach them good hand-washing habits. Unfortunately, children do die from the flu every year, and not just during the “flu season.” But there’s no harm in being a little more vigilant than usual. And parents, remember: there’s no symptom too minor to prompt a call to the CDC hotline.