New mothers and their immediate family should receive flu shots before their newborns leave the hospital. This will create a "cocooning effect" that will help protect the infants from life-threatening influenza, a new study says.
Researchers at Duke Children's Hospital said they found boosting immunization rates in parents -- especially new fathers -- and siblings is especially effective. They were to present their findings Sunday at the annual ICAAC/IDSA meeting, in Washington, D.C.
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend vaccinating newborns for flu because they're too young; however, they're a part of the population that is at highest risk," Dr. Emmanuel "Chip" Walter, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Duke Children's Hospital, said in a university news release.
"Newborns have the highest rate of hospitalizations due to influenza when compared to any other age group of children. Their rates of influenza-related hospitalization are similar to people age 80 and older. And, in some seasons, the influenza-associated mortality rate is highest among infants. We want to protect the newborn by vaccinating the entire family, and send parents home with one less thing to worry about," Walter said.
The study, done at Durham Regional Hospital during the last flu season, included distributing flu education materials to new mothers and setting up a flu vaccine clinic to facilitate getting the shots to other family members around the time of a newborn's birth.
Vaccination of new mothers and other family members increased 16 percent when compared to another hospital in the area, Walter said. The campaign resulted in an additional 45 percent of new mothers -- who had not received a flu shot during pregnancy -- choosing to be vaccinated. There was an equally notable number of new fathers and siblings also getting the flu vaccine when compared to the comparison hospital site, the release said.
"Our study shows that offering the flu vaccine to new mothers during their baby's stay in the hospital is an effective way to assure that all women have the opportunity to get vaccinated and thereby protect their own health and the health of their baby," Walter said. "It also proved to be a convenient, and possibly the most effective, way for fathers to be vaccinated. Protection of the newborn from the dangers of influenza is maximized when those who have the closest contact are vaccinated."