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Over 150 Flu-Related Deaths in U.S. Children in 2003-2004

Infants under 6 months of age at greatest risk

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Although most influenza-related deaths occur among the elderly, an analysis suggests that over 150 children died from the flu in the United States during the 2003-2004 season, most of them younger than age 5. The results of the study are published in the Dec. 15 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

In December 2003, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requested that all health departments report any influenza-related death in U.S. residents 18 years or younger. Niranjan Bhat, M.D., and members of the CDC's Influenza Special Investigations Team reviewed the cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza deaths reported during the enhanced surveillance.

The authors found 153 flu-related deaths in children in 40 states, 63% of whom were under age 5. The mortality rate was highest among children younger than 6 months of age and steadily declined with age. Many died outside of the hospital and within three days of infection. They also found that geographically, the northeast had the lowest mortality rate. Nearly a quarter of the children had bacterial co-infections and a third had a chronic disease that complicated the flu.

"It is likely that, during the 2003-2004 season, more deaths among children were associated with influenza than with any other currently vaccine-preventable disease in the United States," the authors conclude. "Therefore, increased influenza-vaccine coverage and early identification and effective treatment of influenza among children should be key goals."

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