Flu Season – The doctor is in!

Dennis-CunninghamGuest Post: Dr. Dennis Cunningham

It’s that time of year – flu season has hit with a vengeance and unfortunately, children are often the hardest hit. We see the impact in our emergency department and inpatient units. Little Girl with Tissues

We get a lot of questions about flu season so I asked our resident expert, Dr. Dennis Cunningham to give his personal perspective with this guest post. If you’ve been delaying getting your flu shot – read below! Also post questions for Dr. Cunningham and we’ll pass them along.

During my pediatric training, I saw a child die from chicken pox. Chicken pox causes a very itchy skin rash. This patient scratched the rash so much that Strep bacteria infected the skin and caused toxic shock.

This experience made me appreciate that traditional childhood diseases are not a rite of passage, but a risk to every child’s health. Sure, most survive – but no one can predict which child will have a rare, tragic complication. Sadly, I’ve seen deaths from many other diseases similar to the child with chicken pox that could have been prevented with vaccination.

During my training as an infectious disease specialist, I worked on a clinical trial to evaluate a potential vaccine for Dengue Fever, a major health problem in tropical climates. The beauty of vaccines is that they can help millions of patients at a time. If a child becomes infected, I can only help them one patient at time.

Out of all vaccine preventable diseases, influenza causes more cases each year than all other diseases combined. Between 2003 and 2012, the number of pediatric deaths from influenza ranged from 46 to 153 per year. In 2009, H1N2 swine flu killed 348 children. Some of the deaths occurred in previously healthy children. Most of these deaths could have been prevented if the patients received their annual influenza vaccine.

There are no good excuses for not receiving an influenza vaccine – the vaccine is not expensive. The vaccine and cost of giving the vaccine is less than $25 per dose – much less than we pay each month for cell phones or coffee.

As a pediatrician, I focus on the health of children. The flu vaccine benefits adults as well. In the 1980’s Japan vaccinated 80% of all school aged children. Influenza deaths in the elderly dramatically dropped. This benefit was also seen in the United States in the 1970’s in Tecumseh, MI. Both of these experiences were well documented in medical literature.

I am very aware of misinformation on the website about vaccines. My job is to share scientific data on the benefits of vaccines, particularly influenza, and answer questions. Each year my children receive an influenza vaccine – this is the best way to show you I truly believe in the vaccine and the protection it offers. My wife and I also receive an annual flu vaccine (we both are healthcare workers and do not want to give influenza to our patients). It is not too late to get your vaccine – everyone 6 months of age and older should receive the flu vaccine each year.

About Dr. Cunningham – Dennis J. Cunningham, MD, is a member of the Section of Infectious Diseases at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and an Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. His clinical interests include education of medical students and residents, and the management of children and adolescents with infectious diseases. He is the physician director of the Department of Epidemiology and Infection Control at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. His research interests include the evaluation of childhood vaccines. He is the local principal investigator of a sub-site of the National Institute of Health sponsored Vaccine Treatment Evaluation Unit.

Donna Teach
Donna Teach is Chief Marketing & Communication Officer at Nationwide Children's. Her job is to help the hospital feel "connected" – Connected to each other, connected to our patients and their families, referring physicians, the community and the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *