According to new research published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, children born prematurely are at an increased risk of flu-related complications and should be a priority group for seasonal flu vaccination; however, they are not identified as at-risk in WHO, UK, or USA guidelines.

Dr Kay Wang explains, “Until now, guidelines highlighting groups at greater risk of developing complications from influenza, such as pneumonia, have been based on consensus opinion rather than on systematic assessment of the evidence.” As such, Wang and colleagues conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to identify children at risk of complications.

The systematic review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished data was performed to identify the groups of children seen in primary or ambulatory care with influenza or influenza-like illnesses are at an increased risk of flu-related complications.

The review analyzed data from a total of 27 studies involving 14,086 children, which included 3,086 children with underlying conditions. Based on the results of seven studies involving a total of 3,142 children, premature birth was identified as a strong risk factor with almost twice the risk of hospitalization.

Wang states, “Considering that around 10% (12.9 million) of the world’s babies are born prematurely (before 37 weeks gestation) — with preterm delivery rates of around 6% in Europe, 11% in North America, and 12% in Africa — it’s a significant public health issue and has major implications for policy makers.”

According to The Lancet, the findings of the study confirm that children with neurological disorders, immunosuppression, and diabetes are at greater risk of developing influenza-related complications. Also, children with sickle cell disease and those aged younger than 2 years were also found to be at greater risk but are not presently deemed at-risk in UK guidelines. In contrast to all three sets of current guidelines, children with respiratory disorders and obese kids were not found to be at higher risk of flu-related complications.

Wang says, “Policy makers need to be aware of which groups of children should be prioritised when delivering interventions (eg, flu vaccination and antiviral drugs) to prevent influenza and influenza-related complications, particularly during influenza epidemics and pandemics.”

Source: The Lancet