Johns Hopkins Children’s CenterSwine flu or infection of the H1N1 virus has already claimed a number of lives in this past year. A novel study by scientists at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center claims that H1N1 could be more risky than seasonal flu for children with sickle cell disease. It was found to cause more life-threatening complications as compared to seasonal flu in children with sickle cell disease.

Experts associated with the findings warn parents and caregivers about the seriousness of swine flu in children with sickle cell disease. Apparently such children have higher chances of requiring emergency treatment and could also need stays in an ICU. As part of the analysis, about 118 children with sickle cell disease treated for any type of flu at Hopkins Children’s between September 1993 and November 2009. The H1N1 virus was observed to have infected 28 of them.

Both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 virus seem to cause identical general symptoms in most children such as fever, cough and a runny nose. However sickle cell patients diseased with H1N1 were found to be three times more likely of developing acute chest syndrome. The chest condition appeared to be leading cause of death among these patients. It was indicated by inflammation of the lungs, lowered oxygen capacity and shortness of breath.

In addition to this, children who were H1N1-infected also seemed to have five time increased chances of ending up in the intensive care unit. Besides, overall they also appeared more likely to be on a ventilator along with having higher chances of needing a blood transfusion as against those with seasonal flu.

In yet another Hopkins Children’s study, released earlier this year, investigators revealed that as compared to other children, those with sickle cell disease appeared to have been hospitalized with seasonal flu nearly 80 times more often. These findings experts suggest indicate a need to include children with sickle disease in the list of those who require immunization against all flu strains. The list already comprises of asthma, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions.

“Children with sickle cell disease are hospitalized about once a year for pain crises and other complications, so we should do everything we can to prevent hospitalization from the flu by using safe and effective vaccines,” commented lead investigator John J. Strouse, M.D. Ph.D., a pediatric hematologist at Hopkins Children’s.

Sickle cell anemia is known to affect approximately 100,000 Americans. It gets its name for the unusually sickle-shaped red blood cells that could be caused by a genetic abnormality. Due to the cells’ abnormal structure, their oxygen delivery to vital organs is lowered and it causes them to get stuck in the blood vessels. It may consequently result in severe pain and so-called ‘sickling crises,’ which require hospitalization.

As for the CDC, it recommends all children above 6 months of age to get seasonal and H1N1 flu shots. It leaves out those who may be allergic to eggs in the past or who have earlier had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology.