Are some children at higher risk of flu complications?

Some children are more likely than others to have serious flu-related complications. Those at greatest risk of serious flu-related complications are listed below.

  • Children younger than six months old are too young to be vaccinated. The best way to protect them is to make sure people around them are vaccinated.
  • Children aged six months to five years old—even if otherwise healthy—are at risk simply because of their age. According to the CDC, thousands of kids under age five are admitted to the hospital because of the flu every year. Children aged two to five are more likely than healthy older children to be taken to a doctor, urgent care center or emergency room because of flu. To protect their health, all children six months and older should get a flu vaccination each year. Vaccinating young children, their families and other caregivers can also help protect them from getting sick.
  • American Indian and Alaskan Native children are more likely to have severe flu illness that results in hospitalization or death. 

Certain chronic health problems also increase a child’s risk for serious flu complications. Children aged six months to 18 years of age are more likely to have flu-related complications if they have:

  • asthma
  • neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions [including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves and muscles, such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability (mental retardation), moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy or spinal cord injury]
  • chronic lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis)
  • heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
  • blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
  • endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)
  • kidney disorders
  • liver disorders
  • metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
  • weakened immune system due to disease (such as HIV/AIDs or cancer) or medication (such as chronic steroids)
  • children receiving long-term aspirin therapy
Dr. Diana K. Blythe, MD

While every child is at risk for complications if they get the flu, some are more at risk than others. Children with chronic disease, especially affecting their lungs or immune system are at high risk, as are very young children. 

Unfortunately, the children who are most at risk are babies less than six months old. Since these babies are too young to get the flu vaccine, make sure to keep anyone who is sick or has a fever away from them. If you are breastfeeding and sick, make sure to wash your hands prior to breastfeeding and wear a mask so you do not cough on your baby.

Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist
Children under age 5 are at greater risk of flu complications than older children and adults. Infants 6 months old and under are particularly vulnerable to complications from the flu. Children with chronic illnesses, like diabetes, sickle cell anemia, or asthma or other lung diseases, are also at high risk. Annual flu shots are recommended for all children 6 months and older, as well as their family members and caregivers.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.