updated 3/8/2007 2:22:28 PM ET 2007-03-08T19:22:28

Children with asthma should get flu shots to protect them, but only 3 in 10 do, U.S. health officials said Thursday.

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“We were surprised at how low the number was,” said Susan Brim of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead author of a study that looked at flu shot data from 2005.

The study represents the first national estimates on flu vaccination rates for asthmatic children.

Children with asthma, a chronic lung problem marked by wheezing, coughing and labored breathing, can die from flu complications, such as pneumonia and acute respiratory disease. And they are at higher risk for those problems. Inactivated flu vaccine is recommended for asthmatic children older than six months.

The study’s findings came from an analysis of a 2005 national survey of the parents of children ages 2 to 17. About 5,100 kids were represented in the data, and 557 of them had asthma.

Only 29 percent of the asthmatic children had gotten flu shots during the 2004-05 flu season. The lowest vaccination rates were among children ages 5 to 12 who had not had an asthma attack or episode in the previous year.

The survey came after a flu vaccine shortage that caused long waiting lines for shots. Brim said it’s not clear what impact that had on the study results: Asthmatic children were prioritized for the scarce shots, so the shortage may not have hurt — and possibly might even have boosted — vaccination rates that year, she said.

The low rates may have to do with family’s misperceptions about flu shots, said Dr. Gerald Teague, a pediatric pulmonary specialist at Emory University.

Many patients seem to mistakenly believe flu shots can trigger asthma attacks or flu symptoms, and it’s important that doctors talk to families and address such concerns, Teague said.

“Influenza in a child or adult with asthma can be fatal,” he said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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