Flu shots reduce emergency room visits by a third. From Flickr commons.
U.S. and Canadian researchers say that recommending flu shots for all U.S. preschoolers cut visits to emergency rooms for flu-like illness by more than a third.
The results of the study (published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal) showed the direct impact of changes in vaccination policy on flu transmission. In 2006, the United States had a change in policy in which flu vaccinations became recommended among children 2 to 4 (an age at which children are a major source of flu transmission). Canada made no such change at the time. By comparing data from hospital emergency departments in Boston and Montreal, researchers were able to measure the effect of the policy change on emergency room visits..
John Brownstein of Children’s Hospital Boston, who worked on the study, said, ”The differences in the U.S. and Canadian policies created conditions for a natural experiment for evaluating the effects of U.S. policy change in the target age group.”
Brown said the hospital-based data allowed the team to more quickly assess the effects of policy changes than traditional studies would. The researchers looked at data from 114,657 emergency department visits for flu-like illness at Children’s Hospital Boston and Montreal Children’s Hospital from 2000 to 2009 (just prior to the H1N1 flu pandemic).
Their findings indicate that after the 2006 policy change, emergency department visits for flu-like symptoms fell by 34 percent at Children’s Hospital Boston as compared with Montreal Children’s. The benefits extended to older children as well, with rates of flu-like illness dropping between 11 and 18 percent in Boston compared with Montreal during the observed time period.
The researchers believe that vaccinating preschoolers may have cut the spread of the virus to their older siblings, or the new policy may have motivated families to get older children vaccinated as well.
U.S. health officials said last week that 115 U.S. children and teens died from flu last year, with many of those deaths occurring among healthy children who had not received a flu shot. It is now recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that everyone older than six months of age get a flu shot.
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