In addition to getting a flu shot, U.S. children and adults should also be vaccinated against bacterial infections that can develop after the onset of influenza, recommends Emory University public health researcher Keith P. Klugman, PhD.
Writing in the April 6, 2007 issue of Science, Dr. Klugman, professor of global health at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health, says vaccination against bacterial infections that cause pneumonia and meningitis should be incorporated into the federal government's overall flu pandemic plan.
Dr. Klugman notes that bacterial infections, in particular pneumococcal disease, can follow a viral illness such as flu and cause secondary infections that worsen flu symptoms and increase influenza-related morbidity risk. Bacterial infections may have even been the cause of nearly half of the deaths of young soldiers during the U.S.'s 1918 flu pandemic, he says.
"We've known for years that bacterial infections can develop after influenza," Dr. Klugman says. "Unlike the 1918 flu pandemic, which preceded the antibiotic era, we now have vaccines that can prevent these types of pneumococcal infections. We should all take advantage of them."
Dr. Klugman also highlights a 2004 study that showed children in South Africa who received pneumococcal vaccinations had 45 percent less hospitalization rates for flu.
More than 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized each year from flu complications, and about 36,000 people die from flu, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the CDC says anyone who wants to reduce their flu risk can get vaccinated, it highly recommends vaccinations for people in high-risk groups such as infants, pregnant women, seniors, health care providers, and those with chronic health conditions. The U.S.'s current flu vaccination plan doesn't call for vaccinations against bacterial infections.