Flu and Children with Neurologic Conditions
Children of any age with neurologic conditions are more likely than other children to become very sick if they get the flu. Flu complications may vary and for some children, can include pneumonia and even death.
Neurologic conditions can include:
- Disorders of the brain and spinal cord
- Cerebral palsy
- Epilepsy (seizure disorders)
- Intellectual disability
- Moderate to severe developmental delay
- Muscular dystrophy
- Spinal cord injury
Some children with neurologic conditions may have trouble with muscle function, lung function or difficulty coughing, swallowing, or clearing fluids from their airways. These are problems that can make flu symptoms worse.
Vaccination is the Best Protection against Flu
The best way to prevent flu is to get a flu vaccine every year. Flu vaccination each year is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older. It is especially important for children with neurologic conditions to get vaccinated since they are at a high risk of experiencing complications if they become ill from flu.
Additionally, it is important for close contacts of children with neurologic conditions, including parents, siblings, household members, and caregivers – such as babysitters, doctors, nurses, and teachers – to get vaccinated to keep from getting sick or spreading the flu to these children or other people at high risk of serious flu complications.
Flu vaccines are approved for use in children aged 6 months and older, including healthy children and children with chronic health problems.
There are several flu vaccine options available this season. Your doctor or health care professional can help you determine which flu vaccine is best for your child.
Some children will need more than one dose of the flu vaccine to be protected. Your doctor can determine the number of doses your child needs to be protected against flu.
Children younger than 6 months of age are too young to get a flu vaccine. Learn more about protecting infants against flu.
Treating the Flu in Children with Neurologic Conditions
Any person with a health condition that increases their risk for complications if they become sick with flu should get prompt medical attention if they have flu symptoms. If your child with a neurologic condition develops fever or flu symptoms, call your doctor or take them to the doctor right away. CDC recommends that doctors treat flu illness promptly in high risk people who have underlying medical conditions with flu antiviral drugs.
Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that fight against the flu. These medications work best when started as early as possible after getting fever and flu symptoms.
If your child has flu keep them at home, except for doctor visits, for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicines. You should also make sure your child gets plenty of rest and clear fluids (water, broth, sports drinks, etc.). Your health care provider may also recommend fever-reducing medicines* based on your child’s age.
Learn more about the use of influenza antiviral drugs in children with neurologic conditions and other medicines for children when treating influenza.
*Children younger than 4 years of age should not be given over-the-counter medicines without approval from a health care provider. Also aspirin should not be given to any child younger than 18 years old who has the flu.
Tips to Stay Healthy
In addition to getting vaccinated yearly, children with neurologic conditions and their families should practice good health habits to help protect themselves and others against the flu.
These may include:
- Distance: You and your child should avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Take action to help control the spread of germs (like flu):
- Your child should cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they cough or sneeze. Then throw the tissue in the trash.
- If they don't have a tissue, they should cough or sneeze into their upper sleeve or elbow, not their hands.
- Wash hands often with soap and running water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Help your child with hand washing if needed.
- Encourage your child to avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Health: Make sure that your child’s chronic health condition is under the best medical control possible.
- Plan: Have a plan for how to take care of your child in case they become sick with the flu.
Information for Parents
For Health Professionals
- Influenza Vaccination in Children with Neurologic or Neurodevelopmental Disorders – Vaccine Journal article
- Flu Prevention in Children With Special Needs: A Call to Action (Medscape Commentary, password required)
- MMWR: Influenza Vaccination Practices of Physicians and Caregivers of Children with Neurologic and Neurodevelopmental Conditions — United States, 2011–12 Influenza Season
- Neurologic Disorders among Pediatric Deaths Associated with the 2009 Pandemic Influenza – Pediatrics Journal Article
- Letter to Health Care Providers [219 KB, 3 pages] Influenza vaccination of children with neurologic disorders
- Influenza Prevention and Control for Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs – Clinician Outreach & Communication Activity (COCA) Conference Call, CE = Free Continuing Education
- Page last reviewed: August 12, 2015
- Page last updated: May 26, 2016
- Content source:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD)
- Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs