pediatric housecalls Robert R. Jarrett M.D. M.B.A. FAAP

Children, Second-Hand Smoke and Flu

This recent development sorta’ comes under the heading “no duh”: an actual medical study has shown that children hospitalized with influenza are more likely to need intensive care and have a longer hospital stay if they’ve been exposed to second-hand smoke at home.

The CDC (Center for disease control) has told us for a long time that passive smoking causes ear infections, breathing problems and lung infections in children. And it precipitates the hospitalization of up to 15,000 children under 18 months of age every year.

Now a Dr. Wilson tracked over 100 kids hospitalized with flu in New York state and reported her findings in the Journal of Pediatrics [Sep 2012]. “Second-hand smokers” were FIVE TIMES more likely to be admitted to intensive care and stayed 70% longer!

Of the 117 children admitted for influenza between 2002 and 2009, 40% had to endure second-hand smoke. This was slightly lower than the national average of 53% estimated by the CDC in 2008.

The real tragedy was that 30% of smoke-exposed children were bad enough to be admitted to the intensive care unit compared with only 10% of non-exposed children. Thirteen percent of smoke-exposed children were so bad they needed to be intubated and put on a respirator. Only one percent of non-exposed children was inflicted with the procedure.

smoke-2nd-hand-mom-toddlerChildren whose parents or care-givers exposed them to their smoke stayed in the hospital 70% longer, four days on average, compared with 2.4 days in non-exposed kids.

Moreover, if the child also had a chronic illness in addition to the flu, their length of stay increased to about 10 days if they had been breathing second-hand smoke, versus about three days in non-exposed sick kids.

It seems, to me, to be truly unfortunate that we even need to do a study like this – the findings are just so obvious and intuitive. ANY parent or adult should intuitively be able to know that smoke, of any kind, hurts a child’s lungs, makes their asthma worse, makes infections harder to heal, etc., etc., etc..

But, now we know just how much it hurts! Smoke exposure not only increases the severity and suffering of a child to the point of hospitalization but even after getting the child away from its infliction, delays dramatically the healing process and subsequent discharge to home.

[J Pediatrics 2012.]

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