BACKGROUND: Although influenza is common among children, pediatric mortality related to laboratory-confirmed influenza has not been assessed nationally. METHODS: During the 2003-2004 influenza season, we requested that state health departments report any death associated with laboratory-confirmed influenza in a U.S. resident younger than 18 years of age. Case reports, medical records, and autopsy reports were reviewed, and available influenza-virus isolates were analyzed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. RESULTS: One hundred fifty-three influenza-associated deaths among children were reported by 40 state health departments. The median age of the children was three years, and 96 of them (63 percent) were younger than five years old. Forty-seven of the children (31 percent) died outside a hospital setting, and 45 (29 percent) died within three days after the onset of illness. Bacterial coinfections were identified in 24 of the 102 children tested (24 percent). Thirty-three percent of the children had an underlying condition recognized to increase the risk of influenza-related complications, and 20 percent had other chronic conditions; 47 percent had previously been healthy. Chronic neurologic or neuromuscular conditions were present in one third. The mortality rate was highest among children younger than six months of age (0.88 per 100,000 children; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.52 to 1.39 per 100,000). CONCLUSIONS: A substantial number of influenza-associated deaths occurred among U.S. children during the 2003-2004 influenza season. High priority should be given to improvements in influenza-vaccine coverage and improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of influenza to reduce childhood mortality from influenza.
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