NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 7, 2006

Fewer than 20 percent of children younger than age five who have the flu and visit their doctors with flu symptoms are correctly diagnosed as having influenza, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

For the study, researchers in Cincinnati, Nashville and Rochester, N.Y., performed flu tests on young children who sought treatment for flu symptoms between 2000 and 2004.  They found:

  • Only 17 percent of children with the flu were correctly diagnosed by their doctors as having the virus.
  • Some 28 percent of children who were hospitalized with flu symptoms were correctly diagnosed with influenza, according to the study.
  • Most children with the flu were diagnosed with conditions such as asthma, pneumonia and general viral illness.
  • Only 56 children out of every 1,000 visit the doctor because of flu during a mild flu season. (During a moderate flu season, there are 122 doctor visits per 1,000 children.)

Lead author Katherine Poehling, an assistant professor of pediatrics at of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said many of the children who visited a doctor did not have a test performed, and few of the children were sent home with a specific diagnosis of influenza.

The researchers suggested that more widespread use of rapid flu tests, which take less than 30 minutes, would lead to better treatment and a reduction in the spread of the virus.

Source: Katherine A. Poehling et al., "The Underrecognized Burden of Influenza in Young Children,"  New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 355, no. 1, July 6, 2006.

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