This flu season, the federal government is recommending flu
vaccines for all children aged 6 months to 18 years. Previously, vaccines were recommended only to
children under age 5, who are particularly vulnerable to influenza. The change has come about as a result of a
Harvard University study that suggests that children are among the top flu-spreaders
in the nation.
Over the past four years, Harvard researchers took census
data for all of the adults admitted to Boston emergency rooms with flu
symptoms. They discovered that people
who lived in the zip codes most densely populated with children were the most
likely to come down with the flu. Moreover,
flu symptoms appeared both first and with the most ferocity in the areas where
the most children lived. The link between
children and the flu was so pronounced, in fact, that every one percent
increase in child population translated to a four percent increase in emergency
room flu visits by adults.
Children are at a particular risk for spreading the flu
partly because they are generally less adept at keeping coughs and sneezes to
themselves. And since they have so much close
contact with one another in schools and day care centers, their daily routines offer
ample opportunity for viruses to proliferate.
Because the Harvard study did not even look at people who experienced
flu symptoms but did not go to the emergency room for care, the full impact of children
on a population during flu season is likely to be much greater than even these
worrying results show. Parents are strongly
encouraged to make sure that their school-age children are vaccinated before
flu season strikes. To locate clinics in
your area that offer flu shots, please visit the American Lung Association’s Flu Clinic Locator.