Children with Neurologic Conditions & Influenza (Flu)
Children of any age with neurologic conditions are more likely than other children to become very sick if they get flu. Flu complications may vary and for some children, can include pneumonia and even death.
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.
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
The best way to prevent flu is for everyone 6 months of age and older to get a flu vaccine every year. 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.
Some children will need more than one dose of a 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.
- A 2017 study was the first of its kind to show that flu vaccination can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from influenza. The study found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of flu-associated death by half (51 percent) among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions and by nearly two-thirds (65 percent) among healthy children.
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 flu to these children or other people at high risk of serious flu complications. See a full list of people for whom vaccination is especially important.
Injectable influenza vaccines (or flu shots) are approved for use in children aged 6 months and older, including healthy children and children with chronic health problems.
The live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) or the nasal spray vaccine, is recommended as an option for use in individuals, 2 through 49 years of age. The nasal spray vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women and for people with some chronic medical conditions. There is a precaution against the use of nasal spray flu vaccine (LAIV) in people with certain underlying medical conditions, including children with neurologic/neuromuscular disorders.
Your doctor or other health care professional can answer any questions you might have about flu vaccine.
In addition to getting a flu vaccine, children with neurologic conditions should take the same everyday preventive actions that CDC recommends for everyone, including covering coughs, washing hands often, and avoiding people who are sick.
Specific Health Actions for Children with Neurologic Conditions
- 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 flu.
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.
Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.
- Treatment should begin as soon as possible because antiviral drug treatment works best when started early (within 48 hours after symptoms start).
- For you or your child to get an antiviral drug, a doctor needs to write a prescription. These medicines fight against flu by keeping flu viruses from making more viruses in your body.
- Antiviral drugs can make your flu illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious health problems that can result from flu illness.
- There are three FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs recommended by CDC this season that can be used to treat flu.
- Keep your child at home, except for doctor visits, for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicines.
- 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.
*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 flu.
If your child has a neurological condition and experience any of the following emergency warning signs of flu sickness, seek medical attention right away!
Emergency Warning Signs of Flu Sickness
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or not interacting
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
- Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- Fever with a rash
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
Did you know? Every year an estimated 20,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized for flu complications. #flightflu
Animated Image 690×388 [2.9 MB]
A Flu Guide for Parents of Children or Adolescents with Chronic Health Conditions
Brochure [1.1 MB, 2 pages]
Additional Resources for Caregivers of Children with Neurologic Conditions
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: September 18, 2018
- Page last updated: September 18, 2018
- 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