Flu season is upon us. As a highly contagious respiratory illness, influenza can range from mild to severe and may even result in hospitalization. Some people are more likely to develop more serious symptoms, especially children younger than five and people with certain long-term health conditions. Here is some information to help you know what’s right for your family.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, past flu vaccines have been shown to prevent illness and can reduce the risk of severe complications by up to 74% in pediatric patients. Dr. Lara Kothari, Associate Pediatric Program Director of the Pediatric Residency Program at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, emphasizes the importance of the flu shot for children. “The CDC recommends that children over six months receive the flu shot every year,” she says.
Pros and Cons
The flu is caused by a virus and once a person is infected, there is no magic pill that will get rid of it. Dr. Kothari refers to a 2017 study published by the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases that shows the effectiveness of the vaccine to lessen a child’s risk of contracting the flu.
“Kids between six months and five years of age, or kids who have chronic conditions, are at a higher risk for complications due to the influenza virus. Prevention is key but the vaccine does a great job of reducing the risk of illness, hospitalizations, and complications.”
Overall, the flu vaccine has a good track record, but there are drawbacks. According to the CDC, the most common side effects include soreness or redness at the area of the shot, headache, fever, nausea, and muscle aches. Sometimes, even with the flu shot, you can still get sick as it takes about two weeks after receiving the shot for it to be effective.
In addition, researchers decide on which strains to include in the vaccine months before flu season begins, so there may not be a good match between the chosen strains and the ones that actually circulate.
An Informed Choice
Immunization can be received via a shot or nasal spray. However, in September, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued revised flu vaccination recommendations for this season which state that FluMist should be used only as a last resort. As FluMist is just returning to the market after a two-year absence, the AAP recommends the shot due to lingering uncertainties about the effectiveness of the spray. This differs from the CDC which has issued no preferential recommendation.
Exceptions to the Rule
Not everyone should get a flu shot, including babies less than six months of age and any child who has had a severe allergic reaction in the past. Most flu vaccines are made with eggs, so parents of children with an egg allergy should talk about options with their pediatrician.
Dr. Kothari strongly encourages parents to stay informed. “If they have any questions about the safety of the flu vaccines in their child, given their medical history, they should discuss them with their doctor.”
Ways to Stay Healthy This Winter
The most effective way to prevent illness is to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds periodically throughout the day, especially before eating.
Get adequate sleep and drink lots of fluids.
Eat well, aim to eat brightly colored vegetables and fruits every day.
Stay active. Your child should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Playing outside in the winter can be wonderful, but limit the time outdoors if the temperatures are very cold. Keep your child home if he/she is ill to speed recovery and reduce the spread of germs.