Flu appears to be killing more children than adults under 50

Warning: Flu activity is elevated for children aged 3 and younger, but milder for young adults. CDC

A particularly deadly strain of the flu is killing more people in young children than in older adults, according to a CDC report.

The death rate of children aged 2 and younger with influenza-like illness was especially high in adults under age 50, with three times as many deaths as the overall pediatric death rate for flu.

For adults aged 50 to 64, the rate of fatalities was extremely low, but the rate of deaths among children younger than 5 was six times higher than the overall mortality rate.

Why the greater rate of death among young children? Although the CDC is unclear, it says the increases might have to do with differences in the lives of young children and their ability to recognize symptoms.

“With children age 3 and younger, many don’t get up immediately when the symptoms start,” said Eliseo Dejesus, the CDC’s epidemiologist in charge of the division that oversees H1N1 and influenza in children. “They may not be feeling well for a few days and then there’s a delay between the onset of flu symptoms and when they seek medical care.”

The nation’s deadliest and most deadly strain of influenza this year has been the H3N2 strain, which has largely targeted young children, although others may have been exposed to it. The high death rate may also suggest that H3N2 strains tend to cause more infections and more hospitalizations among young children because the virus lives longer in the lungs, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC’s director.

“Young children, in particular, are not used to the intense body aches,” he said. “The phenomenon of adults who haven’t had this kind of activity before are disproportionately hurting.”

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