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Half of Kids with Neurodevelopmental Disability Lack Flu Protection

Experts concerned by high risk of influenza complications in this group; particular danger for those with epilepsy
September 13, 2013

Only half of children with neurologic or neurodevelopmental conditions received flu shots in 2011 and 2012, according to a study published this week in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The finding is of particular concern because these children are at high risk for flu-related complications. Among the most vulnerable are children with epilepsy, which frequently co-occurs with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). (See “Autism and Epilepsy.”)

“This is a serious issue,” says developmental pediatrician Dan Coury, medical director of Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network. “Many families think of the flu as a nuisance illness. But it can lead to more severe complications, hospitalization and even death. Because of this, we began offering flu vaccine to our patients with ASD at our center four years ago.” Dr. Coury is also the chief of developmental-behavioral pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio.

For the study, epidemiologists surveyed nearly 2,000 parents of children with neurologic or neurodevelopmental conditions. Most (75 percent) indicated that they looked to their child’s doctor for advice on vaccination.

The investigators also surveyed around 400 physicians who cared for children with neurologic and neurodevelopmental conditions. They found that specialists were more likely than primary care doctors to recognize that conditions such as epilepsy put children at high risk of flu complications (57 versus 39 percent).

During the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak, a disproportionate number of children with neurologic disorders died, the report notes. Similarly, a 2011 flu outbreak in Ohio took a particularly heavy toll on children and young adults with neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions.

“It’s very important that we vaccinate these children and those around them,” says Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I hope that we can do better in the future.”