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AIMS—To assess the annual risk of
influenza infection in children with cancer and the immunogenicity of a
trivalent split virus influenza vaccine in these children.
METHODS—Eighty four children with cancer were tested for susceptibility to the circulating strains of influenza virus in autumn 1995and 1996. Non-immunised children were reassessed the following spring for serological evidence of natural infection. Forty two patients received two doses of influenza vaccine. These children were receiving continuing chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia or were within six months of completing chemotherapy.
RESULTS—Among the 84 children tested for influenza virus susceptibility only 8% of patients were fully protected (antibody titres 40) against all three of the prevalent influenza virus strains; 33% were susceptible to all three viruses. Evidence of acquired natural infection was seen in 30% of unimmunised patients. Among immunised susceptible patients, 66% made some protective response to the vaccine and 55% showed protective antibody titres to all three viral strains following vaccination. Older age was associated with increased response to the H1N1 and H3N2 vaccine components, but total white cell count or neutrophil count at immunisation, type of cancer, or length of time on treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia did not affect response.
CONCLUSIONS—Most children with cancer studied were at risk of influenza infection. A significant response to immunisation was seen, supporting annual influenza vaccination for children being treated for cancer.