Smokers raise childhood risk of influenza

Flu is a serious illness for children.  Most commonly, it is not the flu itself that causes children to be hospitalized, but often a complication related to the illness–like dehydration or pneumonia.  These complications are not limited to just children, but any high risk group with health conditions or the very elderly can be effected equally.  Many parents have fears regarding flu vaccines for their children and while many are vaccinated, there are many more that are not. Parents are choosing to try to prevent the flu with other methods, including good hygiene and hand washing, avoiding people who are acutely ill and natural supplements. There are other steps that can help reduce the chances that a parent will  have to face many sleepless nights pacing the floors with sick children, and new studies are showing a significant link between some behaviors and increased risk of flu in kids.

Parental smoking habits are the key.  The CDC’s Emerging Infectious Disease program has been collecting information in conjunction with the NYU School of Medicine.  The study authors show that if “more than half” of household members smoke, the chances double that a child will develop a serious case of influenza.  Serious cases most often lead to hospitalization.  More than half–sounds like a lot, but in a home where there are only two adults and a child and both adults smoke, that’s all it takes to outnumber and greatly increase the risk.

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Other complications linked in the study included not being up to date on other vaccinations and have a “younger mother” though the age range was not specified, and this author cannot fully understand what relationship that has on a child’s flu risk.

The study was originally collecting data to analyze flu vaccine effectiveness between 2005 and 2008 and looked for children who were hospitalized at least 14 days after confirmation of flu.  The risk of hospitalization for children in homes with smokers were doubled–and showed similarly to those children with chronic conditions like asthma or cancer.  So even if the child did not have a chronic health condition, living in a home with multiple smokers seemed to mimic the risk factors.

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Researchers also pointed out that other studies have linked parents/caregivers who smoke to other lifestyle factors that could raise the risk for contracting flu–including poverty and living in close proximity with several other people.  Just living in close proximity with others is a legitimate reason for flu to spread easily, especially in the cold winter months when people spend more time indoors.

Certainly, whether or not to vaccinate is a decision that many parents feel uncertain about making.  Lack of trust for the vaccine companies, and poor communication with doctors leaves many parents looking for reassurance and finding none.  So for many, the decision not to vaccinate has only been made simply because they cannot find reasons that promote confidence when it comes to vaccinating their children.  Influenza vaccine has been linked to serious complications but most often results in low grade fever, malaise, soreness at the injection site and a few days of just “not feeling well.” Life threatening reactions can also occur, though not as frequently.

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