Important things parents need to know about flu and flu shots
By Chirlyn Urena, M.D.
Influenza (“Flu”) is an acute respiratory illness most likely caused by the influenza A or B virus. It occurs in annual outbreaks, hitting hardest from December to March (though I have started seeing flu cases as early as August). The virus can affect everyone, but some people are at greater risk of developing serious health problems from the flu: (1) young children; (2) pregnant women; (3) anyone 65 or older; (4) those whose immune system is weakened from medications or illnesses, and (5) anyone with a chronic medical condition, such as asthma.
Symptoms of the flu can vary greatly. They may be uncomplicated and self-limiting (the symptoms resolve themselves); however, they can also escalate very quickly, causing severe and serious complications such as pneumonia, sinusitis, ear infections, brain inflammation (encephalitis), heart inflammation (myocarditis), severe asthma exacerbations in asthmatics, and even death.
The flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu. Yes, we can wash our hands and stay away from sick people, but we don’t always know who is sick. It is true that the vaccine is not 100% effective (effectiveness varies every year), but the vaccine is still your best option if you don’t want to get sick.
When should you and your child get the flu vaccine?
It’s best to get the vaccine as early in the season as possible to build up immunity to the flu, though getting the vaccine later in the season is still better than no vaccine at all.
The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a flu vaccine for every individual 6 months of age and older. Children younger than 9 years old who are getting the vaccine for the first time need two doses, one month apart. Your child will not catch the flu from the flu vaccine since the virus in the vaccine is inactivated. As with any other vaccine, there can be side effects, the most common being fever and pain at the injection site.
Children with an egg allergy can get the flu vaccine. If the allergy is severe, we recommend getting the vaccine at your pediatrician’s office where your child will be monitored and where there is access to medications to treat an allergic reaction.Fortunately, it is very unlikely that anything will happen. And now people with egg allergies no longer have to wait 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine.
Be aware that you are contagious with the flu 1-2 days before you start showing symptoms and 5-7 days after the symptoms start. Your kids should be out of school for at least 24 hours after their last fever.
Call your pediatrician any time if you are worried about the flu. We can help explain what is normal and what is not.