Children born prematurely are at an increased risk of flu-related complications and should be a priority group for the seasonal influenza vaccination, claim researchers.
Such infants are not currently identified as an “at risk” group in the UK, according to researchers writing in journal The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.
“Policy makers need to be aware of which groups of children should be prioritised when delivering interventions”
Dr Kay Wang, from the University of Oxford, performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished data to identify which groups of children seen in primary or ambulatory care with flu or flu-like illness are at increased risk of being admitted to hospital.
The review analysed data from a total of 27 studies involving 14,086 children, including 3,086 children with underlying conditions.
They found premature birth was identified as a strong new risk factor, with around twice the risk of admission.
Dr Wang said: “Considering that around 10% (12.9 million) of the world’s babies are born prematurely – with preterm delivery rates of around 6% in Europe, 11% in North America, and 12% in Africa – it’s a significant public health issue and has major implications for policy makers.”
Consistent with existing guidelines from the Department of Health, the findings confirm that children with neurological disorders, immunosuppression, and diabetes are at greater risk of developing influenza-related complications.
Children with sickle cell disease and those aged younger than two years were also found to be at greater risk, though they are not currently deemed “at risk” in UK guidelines.
In contrast to the DH guidelines, obese children and those with respiratory disorders were not found to be at higher risk of influenza-related complications.
Importantly, the analysis also found that having multiple medical conditions increased the risk of children with flu being admitted. The percentage of children admitted to hospital increased from 48% in children with one condition to 74% in children with more than one condition.
Dr Wang: “Policy makers need to be aware of which groups of children should be prioritised when delivering interventions to prevent influenza and influenza-related complications, particularly during influenza epidemics and pandemics.”