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What Parents Need to Know About H1N1

In the first detailed study of children killed by the H1N1 virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found one particular group of young people to be most vulnerable.

Unlike seasonable flu, H1N1 appears to be affecting school-aged kids more than toddlers. The CDC found 36 children under the age of 18 died from the H1N1 flu virus from April to early last month, which translates to one in every 13 deaths in that period. And 81 percent of the kids that died were between 5 and 17 years old.

Complete Coverage: H1N1

According to the CDC, most of the children who had fatal H1N1 infections this past spring had an underlying condition. CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton reported on "The Early Show" Friday the H1N1 virus has killed more than 500 people in the U.S. And of the 36 kids who died two-thirds of them had high-risk conditions, such as epilepsy or cerebral palsy. However, she added some children with no pre-existing conditions died from a combination of H1N1 and a bacterial infection.

With many schools already back in session, the virus has more of an
opportunity to spread, Ashton said, as health officials report an increase in the number of flu-like cases.

Ashton said most of the H1N1 cases have been mild, but because the virus appears to target young people, they will be among the first to receive the new vaccine. The new vaccine won't be available until mid-October, Ashton said, and those who get it still won't have full immunity until at least Thanksgiving.

"H1N1 is very infectious," Ashton said, "so we can expect that many kids will get it, and tragically there could be more deaths."

But why are children most susceptible to H1N1?

Ashton said children may get H1N1 because they don't have the built-in immunity that older people have because this is a new and unique strain of the influenza virus.

However, she reinforced the point that parents of children with pre-existing conditions should be on the lookout for any changes in their child's health.

But what should all parents be looking for this flu season?

Ashton said every cold and every sniffle is not influenza, and every flu will not evolve into a deadly situation.

However, parents should be on the lookout for changes in their child's breathing patterns, skin color, eating or drinking, among other warning signs.

She said, "We don't want to overwhelm doctor's offices or emergency rooms, but no one knows their child better than a parent. Trust your instincts. And communicate with your pediatrician."

Ashton said the key to dealing with H1N1 is early intervention treatments, such as Tamiflu.
"You want to intervene early," she said. "But (it's) not a cause for panic."

For additional information on H1N1 flu, visit the CDC's H1N1 flu information page.