Flu Epidemic Is Hitting Babies & Young Kids Harder This Year

This Is the worst flu season in years, but experts say there are measures parents can take to protect their little ones.

Even with this year's deadly strain already spreading, there's still time to get protection.

Heartbreaking news hit yesterday when a 1-year-old boy passed away, marking the second pediatric death of the 2017-2018 season, thanks to the flu. And just last weekend, a 4-year-old boy in Montgomery County also died after being hospitalized with the flu. And at the Texans Children's Hospital, Shareeka Smith's 8-month old son Kingston is fighting for his life. And across the country, thirteen children have already died of the flu this season. 

These tragic events come in the wake of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is calling one of the worst flu seasons in years, with 45 states reporting widespread illness. That's four times as many as this time last year.

As with any year, how the virus may affect children is a main concern. Children younger than 5 are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications -- and babies under the age of 2, even more so, notes the CDC. But CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula says the strain that is spreading this year, H3N2, tends to hit young people and seniors more intensely. 

Gary M. Kramer, MD, a pediatrician in Florida has seen this firsthand. "I've been treating three to 10 kids a day for the flu and haven't seen an outbreak like this in eight years," he tells Parents.com. "This has probably been one of the busier years with the flu since the H1N1 swine flu epidemic."

Another issue causing alarm: a report that came out in December stated that, according to preliminary data, this year's flu vaccine may only be 10% effective. "Unfortunately, there is no reliable way to anticipate this," Dr. Kramer explains. "One school of thought is that most 'healthy' children can combat the flu without incident and hence the vaccine is not of great value given the uncertainty of its efficacy. The other school of thought is that some protection is better than none."

Meanwhile, Jennifer Layden, MD, chief medical officer at the Illiniois Department of Public Health, told CBS: "Right now the CDC is estimating that the vaccine effectiveness is at about 32 percent. While it's not 100 percent it is still effective for a significant proportion of the population. if you get the flu, with a vaccine, it's more mild, you're less likely to go to the hospital and you're contagious for a less amount of time. It's not too late to get the vaccine for this season."

Dr. Kramer agrees. "Administration of the seasonal flu vaccine is the most effective measure beyond hygiene and germ avoidance that one could take to reduce their chances of contracting whatever strain(s) of influenza are covered for in that year's vaccine," he notes. "All individuals >6 months and < 9 years require 2 doses separated by a minimum of 4 weeks the first year that they receive it. Beyond that, those individuals as well as all individuals > 9 years require only a single dose annually."

Additionally, you can also reduce your family's risk by following other CDC-recommended measures, like avoiding close contact with sick people, washing your hands often with soap and water, and cleaning/disinfecting surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

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