Everyone knows by now that smoking is bad for your health, but there are people who will still argue that second-hand tobacco smoke isn't harmful to those to have to inhale it. If you're an adult you can choose to leave a smoky environment. However, if you're a child you're pretty much at the mercy of the smoking adults in the household. If you're a child with the flu, all that smoke could be making you even sicker.
Children who have been hospitalized with the flu, and come from homes where they've been exposed to second-hand smoke, are more likely to need intensive care and a longer stay before they are released according to a small new study published in The Journal of Pediatrics.
Researchers analyzed more 100 children hospitalized with flu in the state of New York. They found that those exposed to second-hand smoke were five times more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit and required a 70 percent longer stay in the hospital, compared to the kids not exposed to smoke.
"People are being a bit complacent and thinking that because they don't see smoking as often that it's not a problem anymore," said Dr. Karen Wilson, of Children's Hospital Colorado, in Aurora, who led the study. "But we still need to be vigilant about protecting kids from second-hand smoke."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that passive smoking can have a huge impact on children. According to the CDC, second-hand smoke causes ear infections, breathing problems, and lung infections in children and leads to hospitalization of up to 15,000 kids-under the age of 18 months-every year.
The study is the first of its kind to look at the effect of second-hand smoke on kids with influenza.
Wilson and her team looked at hospital records for 117 kids admitted for influenza to a New York hospital between 2002 and 2009.
Second-hand smoke exposure was reported on the charts of 40 percent of the kids - slightly lower than the 53 percent national exposure rate for kids under 11 estimated by the CDC in 2008.
During the seven-year study, researchers found that overall, 18 percent of the flu-affected kids were admitted to intensive care, and six percent needed to be intubated with a breathing tube. On average, kids stayed in the hospital for two days.
When Wilson and her team compared the kids who had been exposed to second-hand smoke to those who weren't, they found that 30 percent of smoke-exposed kids needed intensive care versus 10 percent of unexposed kids. Intubation was required for 13 percent of smoke-exposed kids, compared to one percent of those from a smoke-free home.
Hospital stays were up to 70 percent longer for smoke-exposed kids, with kids staying in for four days on average, compared with 2.4 days in non-exposed kids. If kids had a chronic illness as well as the flu, their length of stay increased to about 10 days, on average, if they had been breathing second-hand smoke, versus about three days in non-exposed sick kids.
The study does have its limitations. The authors note in their report that children with severe illnesses may have been screened more frequently for smoke exposure, leading to an underestimate of how many kids were exposed to smoke.
Even though the study involved only a small group of participants, the findings suggest that children with the flu who are seen in the emergency room should be screened more thoroughly to see if they have been exposed to second-hand smoke.
"If you have a child who comes into the hospital and they are exposed to tobacco smoke, they have more risk of going on to develop more severe illness," Wilson told Reuters Health. Knowing that kids are at increased risk could help physicians make better treatment decisions, she added.
For Wilson, it's critical that children don't end up in the ER in the first place.
"This is a preventable cause of severe flu, and it's sad that children are in a position to be exposed even though these serious complications can occur," said Wilson.
"Obviously not smoking and protecting children from smoke won't stop them from getting influenza, but it may help it from becoming a severe illness or (preventing) complications that we sometimes see," she added.
With flu season almost upon us, make sure your child isn't exposed to second-hand smoke. It could make the difference between a mild case of the flu or a severe one.
Copyright 2015 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.