Kids with asthma need a flu shot

An annual flu shot is key for children with asthma, a new study shows.

Higher death rate

"We now know that if these kids get the flu, the risks are very high that emergency treatment for an asthma attack will fail," said study co-author and paediatrician Dr Francine Ducharme.

"Instead of having an 18% risk of treatment failure, with flu their risk rises to 40%," said Ducharme, a professor at the University of Montreal.

The study was published June 4 in the journal Pediatrics.

Asthma is a chronic disease of the airways. South Africa has the world’s fourth highest asthma death rate among five- to 35-year-olds. Of the estimated 3.9 million South Africans with asthma, 1.5% die as a result of this condition every year.

Preschoolers with asthma, in particular, may end up in the hospital if they get the flu, Ducharme and her colleagues warned.

Why the flu shot? 

"These kids should get their flu shot and they should get it systematically; it's worth it," Ducharme said in a university news release.

For the study, the researchers examined roughly 1 000 children treated for moderate or severe asthma attacks in emergency rooms at five Canadian hospitals. They also analysed nose swabs taken from the kids to determine if they also had the flu or another respiratory virus.

Nearly two-thirds tested positive for a viral infection. But when given the standard treatments for an asthma attack, including oral corticosteroids and inhaled bronchodilators, 19% didn't respond to their medications.

Those with influenza or parainfluenza turned out to have a 37% higher chance of not responding to treatment, compared to 13% for children without the virus.

Asthma treatment was also more likely to fail among children with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the study showed. But human rhinoviruses, the usual cause of common colds, did not reduce the effectiveness of asthma treatment, the study authors said.

The authors added that the flu shot is a simple way people with asthma can protect against dangerous flu-related complications.

"Influenza is the only respiratory virus that is vaccine-preventable. Granted, it's at best only 50% efficacious, but that's no reason for kids with asthma not to get vaccinated yearly, in the fall, before flu season starts," said co-author Caroline Quach, an associate professor of microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Montreal.

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