The tendency among many parents when their children get sick in the wintertime with vague, virus-like symptoms is to blame the flu. However, the flu is a serious, diagnosable illness that can result in hospitalization or, in rarer cases, death, as it attacks the breathing system as well as the entire body.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend — among other things — that all children over 6 months old receive an annual flu shot; it’s proven to be the best way to prevent the flu each year.
Here are the basics about the annual flu shot, and why medical experts say it’s critical to get them to protect your children:
Young children, pregnant women, and people over the age of 65 are prone to getting much sicker from the flu. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children younger than 2 years old — even healthy children — are more likely than older children to end up in the hospital if they get the flu. And not only are young children are more susceptible to getting it, they’re also more apt to spread it due to their high hand-to-mouth activity. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized with complications from the flu each year, with the number of related deaths ranging from 3,000—49,000.
Each year the Food and Drug Administration, CDC and World Health Organization work with public health officials in an attempt to predict which virus strains will likely be most prevalent in the coming flu season. While the flu shot isn’t guaranteed to prevent people from getting infected, it can “lessen the severity of the illness.”
According to the CDC, the flu vaccine can be administered in one of two ways. One is through a live, attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), which contains a weakened influenza virus and is administered through a spray into the nostril. Alternatively, there is an inactivated (killed) influenza vaccine, otherwise known as the “flu shot,” which is given by injection with a needle.
There is no thimerosal or other preservatives in the LAIV, although only those between the ages of 2 and 40 who are not pregnant and not suffering from certain health conditions can take it. The injectable shot without the live virus is recommended for children under 5 who suffer from asthma, children between the ages of 6-23 months, and children or adolescents on long-term aspirin treatment, among others. Babies under 6 months old should not get either influenza vaccine, according to the CDC.
Protection against illness can take up to two weeks after the vaccination has been administered, and lasts roughly a year.
Side effects of the injectable vaccine can last for 1-2 days and include soreness, redness and swelling at the injection site; cough; fever; headache; red/itchy eyes and fatigue. The nasal mist side effects are mild and short-lived and can include a runny nose, nasal congestion, cough, chills, fatigue, sore throat and headache.
Those with chicken egg allergies, history of Guillain—Barré Syndrome or who have had past severe reactions to the flu shot should speak to their doctor before getting the flu vaccine.
The flu season generally lasts from the fall to the spring each year. Once the vaccine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration — generally in the late summertime — it starts to become widely available in doctor’s offices, clinics and hospitals.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a specific immunization schedule, which is designed with infants and children in mind in an effort to protect them “when they are most vulnerable and before they are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases.” The flu can cause serious complications, including pneumonia, dehydration, worsening of other medical problems like heart disease or asthma, sinus problems, and ear infections. People can get the flu more than once in their lives, and serious cases can result in hospitalization or even death. Because the virus can change from year to year, the vaccination is constantly changing, making it critical for children to get the shot at the beginning of each flu season.
WHAT ABOUT . . . THESE FLU MYTHS?
- Flu shots don’t cause the flu. Because they’re made up of only parts of the virus, not the whole thing, you can come down with the flu after you get it, even if you have some short-lived, flu-like symptoms.
- Healthy people need the flu shot just as much as not-so-healthy people. Even if their symptoms are mild, they can still transmit it to others who can become more ill with the same virus.
- The jury is out on whether Vitamin C and echinacea will ward off the flu, so don’t assume they will, even if you take them regularly.
- The flu shot changes from year to year. If you had it last year, it fought against different strains than those in this year’s shots (mostly). Either way, the shot is only effective for one year so you need to get it each year.
Click here for specifics on the 2012/2013 flu vaccine.
Photo credit: iStock
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