Healthy living

Swine flu killed 70 children in England in 2009

Flu and children Study identifies high risk children

Seventy children in England died from swine flu during last year's pandemic, a new study has revealed.

Research published in the Lancet shows that 70 children died over a nine month period between June 2009 and March 2010, after being infected with the new strain of H1N1 influenza virus.

Children under the age of 16 from ethnic minority backgrounds and those with pre-existing medical conditions were hardest hit and should be a priority for vaccination, said former Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson, who led the study.

Overall, six children per million population died as a result of the H1N1 virus, but this figure jumped to 14 deaths per million in children under the age of one.

Death rates were also high among children from an ethnic minority background; 36 deaths per million occurred in Pakastani children and 47 deaths per million in Bangladeshi children, compared with four per million among white English children.

One in five children who died were previously healthy, and only two were vaccinated against the disease - but too late to be effective, the researchers said.

They also added that most of the children who died had typical respiratory symptoms, rather than unusual ones which may have indicated they were at a greater risk of dying from the infection.

More than six out of ten children who died had a pre-existing medical condition. Children with neurological diseases such as cerebral palsy were particularly vulnerable.

The researchers wrote: "The occurrence of 70 deaths from pandemic influenza A H1N1 in children in one year in England is greater than the number of deaths in children every year from leukaemia, and this high childhood mortality was last seen for a single infectious disease (meningococcal disease) in 2001."

Although unable to explain the higher death rates in ethnic minority groups, researchers said their findings were similar to reports from the US.

They concluded: "Our findings support the vaccination of children against pandemic influenza A H1N1. Children at greatest risk of severe illness or death should be prioritised.

However, our findings also suggest that protection cannot be confined to risk groups as 21 per cent of deaths in our cohort occurred in healthy children."

This article was published on Wed 27 October 2010

Image © CDC C. S. Goldsmith and A. Balish

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