In announcements about how lethal the upcoming bird flu pandemic will be, experts are contradicting themselves. As we’ve told our readers before, the best weapon against bird flu is to wash your hands whenever you come in from outside, because flu virus lives on surfaces. This is especially important now that Tamiflu may not be working anymore. In Asian countries, children are the first to contract bird flu because it’s usually their chore to feed the family’s chickens and ducks. Kids are the first to catch flu in the US as well, then they pass it on to the rest of us.

A report in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that otherwise healthy 3- and 4-year-olds drive flu epidemics. This means that maybe we should be giving young kids flu vaccines first, instead of saving our supplies of serum for the elderly.

Harvard researchers examined medical visits of children aged 3 to 4 from 2000 to 2004 and found that the kids clearly led the flu epidemics, getting the disease first and passing it on. This is probably the same reason that children get head lice and the rest of us don’t?kids have much more intimate contact with each other. The researchers found that young, school-aged children had flu symptoms as early as late September. Younger hildren, from infants to two years old, got the flu next (probably brought home from school by their slightly older siblings), while older children first showed symptoms in October and adults didn’t have symptoms until November.

Dr. John Brownstein says, “The data make sense because preschools and daycares, with their close quarters, are hotbeds of infection. The data suggest that when kids are sneezing, the elderly begin to die.”

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