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This article was published in October 2013. The information may be out of date. Please check our epilepsy information or our site A-Z.

Influenza: increased risk in child epilepsy

8 Oct 2013

New research in the US calls for better education of both doctors and parents about the risks of influenza in children with epilepsy. Many are still not being vaccinated – because the increased risk of complications is not understood

A survey has been carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US. It shows that quite a low percentage of children with epilepsy are being vaccinated against influenza (‘flu’). This is despite the fact that these children are at a higher risk of potentially fatal complications if they catch it.

In 2009, the world saw an influenza pandemic – meaning the illness broke out all over the world on different continents. The pandemic involved a new strain of H1N1 flu virus. A previously recorded combination of bird, human and pig flu viruses had combined with a Eurasian pig flu virus. This mutated strain affected many thousands of people before the number of cases started to fall at the end of that year.

Asian girl receives a vaccinationThe CDC has released figures showing that 146 out of 336 children who died during the pandemic had underlying neurological conditions. Epilepsy was the second most common. Fifty-one per cent (just over half) of those 146 deaths were in children with epilepsy. It is suspected that having a neurological condition results in complications that were fatal in these cases.

The recent CDC survey looked at the records of 1,005 children with neurological or neurodevelopmental disorders. The survey aimed to find out if these children had been vaccinated against influenza. Only 59 per cent of the children with epilepsy had been given the flu vaccine, in spite of their increased risk of life-threatening complications.

The survey also highlighted the lack of knowledge among health professionals. Only 52 per cent of the physicians who were treating the children with epilepsy even knew about the increased risk.

The CDC researchers have called for a higher level of awareness in the families of children with epilepsy and within the healthcare profession. For more information, read their press release.

Editor’s note: In the UK, all children over 6 months old up to age 17 will soon be offered the flu vaccine. This year, children who are two or three years old on 1 September 2013 will get the vaccine. Over the coming years, children from other age groups will be included.

If your family doctor thinks your child is at risk of becoming seriously ill if they get flu, they can offer them the vaccine this year.

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