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CDC: More Than 40 Percent Of Child Flu Victims Were Healthy

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In the past decade, more than 40 percent of children who died from the flu were previously healthy children.  (credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

In the past decade, more than 40 percent of children who died from the flu were previously healthy children. (credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

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ATLANTA (CBS ATLANTA/AP) – In the past decade, more than 40 percent of children who died from the flu were previously healthy.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that almost half of the 830 children who died from the flu between 2004 and 2012 did not have a high-risk medical condition such as asthma or heart disease, and were otherwise healthy.

“Healthy kids are at risk, too. I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t recognize,” study researcher Dr. Karen Wong, of the CDC, told LiveScience.”People can get very sick very quickly, even if they don’t have an underlying medical condition.”

“Over 40 percent of the children who died had been previously healthy and very few of these children had been vaccinated,” Wong explains. “About a third of the children died within three days of their first reported symptom and most of the children died within a week.”

Federal health officials recommend a yearly flu vaccine for nearly everyone, starting at 6 months of age. On average, about 24,000 Americans die each flu season, according to the CDC.

The researchers stressed the importance of vaccination, pointing to the fact that age and pre-existing medical conditions should not be the only warning signs of deadly flu risk.

Of the 511 children who died, and were eligible for a flu shot, only 16 percent had received one. However, children with high-risk medical conditions were still the most at risk, with neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy, lung disorders, asthma and genetic disorders all presenting dangerous risks to children.

During the CDC study period, the 2009-10 flu season was the deadliest: 282 children died.

For over three decades, the flu vaccine has offered protection against three influenza strains — two common Type A strains called H1N1 and H3N2, and one strain of Type B. Flu strains continually evolve, and the recipe for each year’s vaccine includes the subtypes of those strains that experts consider most likely to cause illness that winter.

And this year, Americans have an unprecedented number of vaccine options to choose from: The regular shot; the nasal spray; an egg-free shot for those allergic to eggs; a high-dose shot just for those 65 and older; and a tiny-needle shot for the squeamish. The bigger change: A small number of the regular flu shots, and all of the FluMist nasal vaccine, will protect against four strains of influenza rather than the traditional three, reports The Associated Press.

January and February typically are the peak flu months in the U.S., reports the AP.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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