MONDAY, Aug. 4, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- About one-third of
children with viral infections severe enough to land them in the
hospital end up with serious complications -- such as pneumonia,
seizures and brain swelling, a new study finds.
The study, reported online on Aug. 4 in
Pediatrics, followed kids who had to be admitted to a
pediatric hospital for the flu and other respiratory infections.
Researchers stressed that they are much different from the vast
majority of children who fall ill during cold-and-flu season.
In fact, they would likely represent only a small percentage of
children seen in the ER for worrisome flu-like symptoms, said Dr.
Rakesh Mistry, the lead researcher on the study and an emergency
specialist at Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora.
"These kids were really ill," Mistry said of the study group, which included 241 children brought to his center's ER between 2008 and 2010.
The children had to be admitted to the hospital and required IV
fluids. All underwent testing to weed out the cause of the
infection -- which is not routine for kids who land in the ER with
flu symptoms, Mistry noted.
In the end, about 25 percent of the children tested positive for
the flu virus. The rest had a mix of viruses that typically cause
the common cold, but sometimes lead to more severe respiratory
Overall, 35 percent of the children developed a serious
complication, such as pneumonia, inflammation around the brain, or
respiratory failure. Often, those kids had underlying medical
conditions that can make respiratory infections dangerous --
including neurological disorders like cerebral palsy or muscular
"Those children may just not have the capacity to breathe when they get these infections," explained Dr. Vincenzo Maniaci, an attending ER doctor at Miami Children's Hospital who was not involved in the study.
More than one-quarter of those with severe complications had a
history of asthma, according to the study. In addition, children
with certain other conditions -- such as heart problems, chronic
lung disease and sickle-cell disease -- are part of the "key group"
at risk of complications from the flu and other viruses, Maniaci
Still, about 40 percent of the children in this study who
suffered complications were otherwise "reasonably healthy," Mistry
"That's important," he said, "because it means we have to be aware that even healthy children can develop these complications."
But he stressed that even though those children had no
underlying high-risk conditions, they were so ill they had to be
admitted to a children's hospital -- which would not be true of the
vast majority of kids who come down with the flu or a bad cold.
"For most children, if they have a fever and cough, it's just a fever and a cough," Mistry said.
Maniaci agreed that parents of healthy kids should not be
alarmed. Instead, he said, this is more evidence that parents and
doctors should be aware of the possibility of complications in
children with high-risk diseases.
Maniaci did suggest, though, that parents know the potential
symptoms of pneumonia -- including fast, labored breathing and
chest pain. Pneumonia is the most common complication of the flu
and colds in healthy children, Maniaci noted.
When it comes to influenza, he said, a yearly flu shot might
save children some misery. However, they'll still be susceptible to
other common viruses.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on
children and the flu.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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