High risk, low priority: re-evaluating patients who need flu shots

September 10, 2013

The World Health Organization states that data for populations with a high-risk of flu complications should be reevaluated.

New mothers and people who are morbidly obese have a higher chance of dying from the flu, but are not prioritized for flu shots, according by a study released by the British Medical Association.

Though pregnant women with the flu go to the hospital more, the study finds that women in postpartum had a higher risk of severe outcomes from the flu. Women within four weeks of having a baby had “a significantly increased risk of death,” according to the study.

People with a body mass index of more than 30 also show an increased risk of death and complications from the flu. The authors note that many chronic illnesses, including diabetes, present a higher flu mortality rate, but “ morbid obesity was identified as a potential independent risk factor after adjustment for these comorbidities.”

The study, co-sponsored by the World Health Organization, suggests that obesity and the postpartum period be added to the list of high-risk factors that should allow for priority flu vaccinations. Also noted was the “poor quality of evidence” that determines which demographics and factors lead to higher complications and mortality from flu worldwide.

“Despite the widely accepted public health policy of recommending vaccination to groups believed to be at high risk for complications of influenza, a comprehensive and systematic review of the evidence defining these groups is lacking,” the study found.

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