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Child Patients of Alternative Medicine Less Likely to Get Flu Shot

As flu season approaches, Rochester health officials are reminding locals, especially parents and their children, to get their annual flu shot. But a new study suggests that some parents may be less likely to vaccinate their kids than others.

Children who receive complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) health treatments, such as acupuncture, naturopathy, or chiropractic manipulation, are anywhere from 25% – 39% less likely to get a flu shot than their peers, depending on the type of treatment.

Overall, only 33% of children ages four to 17 who had received CAM treatments were vaccinated against the flu within the past year, compared to 43% of the child patients who did not visit any alternative medicine practitioners.

The study was based on a sample of 9,000 children whose families participated in a national health survey. Lead author William Bleser of Pennsylvania State University stressed that the results do not indicate causation, but that there may be some overlapping attitudes between parents who seek CAM for their children and those who choose not to vaccinate their kids.

“There is nothing inherently wrong with using CAM,” Bleser said. But “some complementary and alternative medicine practitioners have anti-vaccine or vaccine-hesitant viewpoints.”

Though treatments like aromatherapy may be more than 6,000 years old, they’re no guard against the new annual strains of influenza that can be particularly problematic for young children. The results of the study point to the need to better understand exactly how parents view CAM in relation to Western medical practices, said Linda Greene, a University of Rochester researcher and president-elect of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.

“Most likely parents may have been influenced by the beliefs often consistent with alternate medicine,” said Greene, who was not involved in the study. “These beliefs may center on personal control of one’s health through healthy lifestyles rather than traditional medicine.”