New Australian research has discovered that the most effective way to protect infants against influenza is to ensure the rest of the household have received their yearly flu shot. Giving up smoking and limiting the number of people inside the house can also significantly reduce a baby's risk of infection.
Researchers from the University of Sydney analyzed 32 influenza cases involving infants under six months old who had been admitted to Westmead Children's Hospital during the Swine Flu pandemic in 2009.
The study found that just 14 per cent of the infants' mothers had been vaccinated against seasonal influenza. Many of the infants in the study had also been in contact with other children who had not been vaccinated.
More than half of the analysed infants went on to suffer from ongoing respiratory illness after being released from hospital, while 21 per cent re-presented to the Emergency Department within six months of their admission with flu.
“The biggest risk factor we documented was close contact with other (unvaccinated) young children in the household, contributing to 46 percent of cases,” the report's chief author, Professor Elizabeth Elliott said.
“The other significant risk factor was that many children were living with at least one smoker in the household, contributing to 36 percent of cases.”
The study concludes that influenza rates in infants under six months of age can be significantly reduced by vaccinating all household members, minimising exposure to cigarette smoke and avoiding overcrowding.
Some of these tips are a little less practical than others -- if you live in a low-income household with lots of extended family members, how exactly do you reduce crowding?
That said, it's clear from the above results that everyone should get their yearly flu jab if they have a little one at home.
“Our message to parents is please vaccinate all of your household against seasonal influenza in order to protect the youngest and most vulnerable in your family," Elliott said.
Influenza infection in infants aged <6 months during the H1N1-09 pandemic: A hospital-based case series [National Center for Biotechnology Information]