Some flu (Influenza) complications in children (toddlers and infants included) are common and are also seen in adults, as shown below.
But, children have an additional risk of developing some more critical complications, especially children under the age of five years, who are more prone than their elder counterparts. This risk is more pronounced below the age of two years.
Children in this age group do not have a fully matured immune system. They, therefore, fall under the high-risk group, which makes them more prone to not only catch the flu but also contract its complications.
Children with pediatric influenza (flu) can invite complications that are also seen in adults. Complications common in both children and adults include:
- a sinus infection (sinusitis)
- an ear infection (otitis media)
- a lung infection, which can develop into pneumonia – viral and/or bacterial
- infection of the brain (encephalitis and meningitis)
- worsening of any existing health condition of the heart, asthma, and diabetes
If the child develops symptoms of these complications, inform your treating doctor. These symptoms may include ear pain or congestion of the face, persistent cough, or persistent fever. Excessive crying, which reflects that the child is experiencing pain.
If you have educated yourself about the early warning symptoms and signs of flu, it will be easier for you to recognize the symptoms of flu complications.
Below are the symptoms of the flu complications seen only in children.
Flu complications in children and their symptoms
Being a child and contracting the flu is a high-risk factor that puts the child vulnerable to flu complications.
Children younger than 5 years old–especially those younger than 2– are at high risk of developing serious flu complications. What can protect the child against flu and its complications is the flu vaccine.
Watch out for these complications if your child is suffering from the flu.
Children are very prone to get febrile seizures due to high fever. Febrile seizures usually last around one or two minutes and can occur with a high fever of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher, but they can also occur at lower body temperatures or when a fever is receding.
2. Croup (laryngo-tracheobronchitis)
Croup syndrome is another flu complication that can occur in children. Adults, too, can fall victim to this complication.
It is a viral respiratory condition that is characterized by symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, hoarseness, and a barking cough, which resembles the sound of a seal barking.
Croup causes inflammation and swelling around the vocal cords, infection of the trachea (windpipe), and the lungs. Most cases of croup are mild and resolve within three to five days or rarely can take weeks. At times, it can be serious and even life-threatening.
3. Reye’s syndrome
Reye is another fearful flu complication seen in children and teenagers who have just started recovering. Though it is rare, it can be fatal almost always.
It causes skin rash, nausea, vomiting, liver damage, and a fall in blood sugar levels. It has a damaging effect on the body organs, especially the brain and the liver. Reye’s syndrome can also affect your nerves.
Brain damage causes progressive mental changes such as delirium and confusion. You should watch out for these signs.
The cause of Reye’s syndrome is not yet known, but it is associated with the consumption of aspirin by children suffering from viral sickness. This syndrome is, however, also seen in the absence of aspirin use.
4. Encephalitis and meningitis
Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain caused by the flu viral infection. Meningitis is inflammation of the meninges, the membranes covering the brain.
- Persistent crying
- High fever
- Bulging fontanel (soft spot on the scalp)
- Body stiffness
- Poor appetite – not wanting to eat or drink
Flu, therefore, can have effects, which can be serious. Watch out for these complications that can arise and stay in touch with your physician.
5. Neurological conditions
Certain neurological conditions can make children carry a high risk of falling very sick with the flu and its complications. Chances of mortality also increase. These neurologic conditions can include:
- Cerebral palsy
- Muscular dystrophy
- Spinal cord injury
- Delay in the development of milestones in the child
Flu-related deaths in children – statistics
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 830 kids died from flu-related complications between October 2004 and September 2012.
The majority of these kids had not been vaccinated with the flu vaccine. Their average age was 7 years. Pneumonia was the most commonly reported complication responsible for these deaths.
What is more surprising is that 43% of these children were healthy and did not harbor any factors that could make them fall into the high-risk group.
Furthermore, 63% of these children died within seven days of the onset of the flu symptoms. And, 35% of these children died before being admitted to the hospital. This shows the speed with which flu can kill with its complications.
What this indicates is that being an infant, toddler, or a child, itself is a high-risk profile.
The Flu is a nationally notifiable condition since 2004. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), monitors the flu activity throughout the year and produces weekly reports during the flu season months of October to May. Figures, therefore, are authentic and accurate.
Flu-related pediatric deaths year wise
We have the exact number of pediatric flu deaths that occurred year-wise from the flu season of 2003-2004 to 2015-2015 in the United States. The year indicates the flu season of that year and the figures ahead indicate the number of pediatric deaths.
2003-04 flu season – 152 pediatric flu deaths
2004-05 – 39 deaths
2005-06 – 41 deaths
2006-07 – 68 deaths
2007-08 – 88 deaths
2008-09 – 133 deaths
2009-10 – 282 deaths
(swine flu pandemic)
2010-11 – 123 deaths
2011-12 – 37 deaths
2012-13 – 171 deaths
2013-14 – 111 deaths
2014-15 – 148 deaths
2015-16 – 77 deaths so far
These figures show a great variation in the number of deaths with 282 pediatric deaths during the flu season of 2009 – 2010 and just 37 deaths during 2011 – 2012.
These deaths don’t mean that all these infants and children died from complications of a chronic medical condition. These deaths are purely flu-related deaths due to its complications.
Studies indicate that half of the children who die from the flu every year, do not have any risk factors.
The need for vaccinating your child after the age of six months every year is a must. It will significantly reduce his chances of being a victim of the flu disease.