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I thought I would write about a very pertinent topic for fall and winter this week, since the weather has taken a cold spell here. That’s right: I’m going to answer your questions about “the flu” and its vaccine! So, here we go…
Flu is a virus that causes sickness in both adults and children. Common symptoms include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, cough, cold, and runny nose, and these can become complicated and require hospitalization, especially in the very young and very old. For example, each year about 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized for complications. The most severe complications are most common in kids less than two.
The best way to protect against seasonal flu is through vaccination each year. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine. There are 2 types of vaccines: a shot and a nasal spray. The shot is approved for babies older than 6 months and the spray is approved for children over the age of 2. The vaccine is a an inactivated virus that is introduced into the body and allows the body to make “antibodies” to fight the virus, should your body become exposed. It is especially important for any child with an underlying disease, such as asthma or diabetes, to be vaccinated. These are the kids at higher risk for serious complications that could require hospitalization.
The CDC also recommends that people in contact with certain groups of children get a flu vaccine in order to protect the child from the flu. This includes:
Ask your pediatrician’s office when they will start distributing the vaccine. Usually it is in the beginning of October. You can typically make a nursing appointment for this if your child is not due for a well check-up. It is important to vaccinate your children each year, because the flu virus can change slightly and the vaccine from the previous year probably won’t be effective. Children between 6 months and 8 years who did not receive at least one dose of the 2010-2011 vaccine, should receive two doses of the 2011-2012 vaccine. The first dose should be given as soon as it becomes available, and the second dose after 28 days.
It takes about 2 weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide necessary protection against the flu virus. Therefore, it is always important to stress handwashing, reinforcing the habit of sneezing into the elbow (and not the hands!), keeping your kids at home if they have symptoms (fever, runny nose, tiredness), and getting vaccinated as soon as possible!
If you have a baby under 6 months old, the best thing you can do is vaccinate yourself and prevent your baby from being exposed to sick contacts. I cannot stress to you how important hand-washing is if you do find yourself coming down with something! The CDC recommends alcohol-based hand-rubs. This is quick and easy. Also, try not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth – this is how germs spread. If your child attends day care, please keep them home if they develop symptoms or you have any concerns.
Side effects are very rare from the flu vaccine and in my short career as a pediatric resident, I haven’t seen this in any patients. However, it is reported that side effects can include soreness at the site and aches. Very, very rarely people can have an allergic reaction, but unless your child has had a reaction to a vaccine in the past, this should not be of concern to you.
I hope this has been helpful for you. Please let me know if you have any questions - and please, please, please call your pediatrician’s office and find out when they will be getting the flu vaccine!
Leave a comment or question for Dr. Dixon below or on her profile page. She's excited to hear from you!
[Views expressed in the blog series are not in whole or in part that of MCITP and offered solely as a family resource]