August 9, 2007 / 10:52 PM / in 11 years

Flu killed 68 children this season: CDC

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Influenza killed at least 68 children in America during the latest flu season and a third of them had a worrying new complication, U.S. health officials said on Thursday.

The 2006-2007 annual flu season never reached epidemic stage, but doctors should keep a lookout for such dangerous cases in children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The CDC issued an alert in May for deaths of children who were infected with both flu and a bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus, or staph. It said 21 of the children who died also had such infections, some of them resistant to antibiotics.

“Only one pediatric death with influenza and S. aureus coinfection had been reported during 2004-05, and three had been reported during the 2005-06 season,” the CDC report said.

Staph and other bacterial infections can complicate flu and make the disease more likely to kill and the number of antibiotic-resistant staph infections is on the rise.

More than 90 percent of the children who died in the latest season had not been vaccinated against flu, the CDC said. Flu vaccination is recommended for children aged 6 months to 5 years old, for anyone with chronic conditions such as asthma, and for people aged over 64.

Seasonal flu kills an estimated 36,000 people a year in the United States, most of them elderly. Last year 41 children who died from flu were reported to the CDC, although the agency stresses that reporting is not routine yet and it is misleading to compare deaths from one season to another.

The CDC is still trying to build an accurate picture of an average flu season in the United States but it is difficult because doctors do not often even test patients for respiratory diseases, much less report them to the federal government.

But because health experts suspect a pandemic — a serious global epidemic — of influenza is potentially imminent, the CDC is struggling to gather as much information as possible about flu now.

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