More than 100 children died last season due to complications from influenza. Children can and do die from flu-related complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 80-85 percent of flu-related child deaths in past seasons occurred in children who did not receive a flu vaccine.
Influenza (the flu) is a respiratory viral illness with fever, chills, runny nose, cough, and body aches. It usually lasts 7-10 days. It spreads easily through cough droplets in the air. Children, particularly those younger than 5 years—under 2 have an even higher risk—are vulnerable to potential complications from the flu such as pneumonia, ear infections, and sinus infections. These complications may be life threatening. Those with asthma or chronic medical conditions are also at higher risk.
The best way to prevent influenza is to get a yearly flu shot. The flu shot is safe and strongly recommended for infants six months of age and older. All infants and children should receive the flu shot. The flu shot cannot cause flu. It is a dead vaccine. It works by causing the body to develop antibodies. Antibodies then protect the child when exposed to influenza.
The flu shot may have mild side effects such as fever and soreness at the injection site. You should not get your child a flu shot if they are allergic to flu vaccine or are less than six months of age. If your child is ill, discuss whether he or she is well enough to get the flu vaccine with your health care provider.
How well the flu shot works depends on, among other things, the match between the flu viruses covered in the vaccine and the actual live flu virus. Some years, the match is great, and we get 80 percent coverage, and other years less. There are many strains of flu. The flu virus can mutate or change, which makes it trickier to prevent. The effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies year to year, but usually reduces the risk of influenza by 50-60 percent. If someone was shooting arrows at your children and you had a shield that protected 50 percent of their little bodies, would you use it? Of course you would. Fifty percent is better than no protection.
There are tests available to diagnose the flu. It requires a quick nasal swab, which is uncomfortable, but not painful. The test results are available within a few minutes. The healthcare provider will also take a complete history and do a physical exam.
The best time to get your flu shot is before flu season. September or October is best, but if you haven’t gotten it yet, it’s not too late. If you have a risk factor for complications from flu, you should get yours as soon as possible, in case there are issues with supply. Influenza can hit at any time, but usually occurs during the colder months of the year. It has been seen as early as October or as late as May. In the U.S., flu season is usually considered to be October through May, peaking in February, but it varies year to year.
The flu is a virus. Therefore, antibiotics do not work. Viruses must run their course. This is why it’s so important to prevent the flu. There are anti-viral medications for influenza. However, they don’t cure the flu but may minimize the symptoms. These prescription anti-viral medications must be given within the first 48 hours of illness, so see your child’s healthcare provider promptly. They may shorten the illness by a day or two, and decrease fever by a degree. They can have serious side effects including severe vomiting, so you should discuss with your child’s healthcare provider if the medication is right for your child. Antiviral medications are recommended for children with influenza who are at high risk for complications.
The flu shot can prevent the flu. Even if you get the flu, it is possible that the flu shot may reduce the severity of the disease. The flu shot can reduce the risk of hospitalization and complications. It is safe and helpful. Get your child the flu shot and protect him or her from the flu and flu-related complications. Here’s to a healthy fall and winter season! I’m off to get my flu shot now.
For more information about the flu, visit www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm.