Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend annual influenza vaccine for all persons6 months of age and older. This is especiallyimportant for family members (including parents and grandparents), household contacts, and out-of-home care providers of children who are younger than 5 years; children with high-risk conditions; and all women who are pregnant, considering pregnancy, or breastfeedingduring the flu season.
The peak flu season generally runs from November to April. In the 2011 Dayton Children’s Regional Pediatric Health Assessment, it was found that highly contagious, yet preventable, colds and flu symptoms account for the top reasons kids visit the doctor and stay home at school. However, a recent study reported by Medpage Today showed that “a U.S. policy change recommending seasonal influenza vaccination for children ages 2 to 4 was associated with a drop in emergency department visits for influenza-like illness in this age group.”
While the recommendations are clear about the flu vaccine, many parents still have questions. Sherman Alter MD, medical director of infectious disease at Dayton Children’sand the Immunization Action Coalition offer the following answers to some of the most common questions related to the flu and the flu vaccine.
- Is influenza more serious for kids? Infants and young children are at a greater risk for getting seriously ill from influenza. That’s why health experts recommend that all children 6 months and older and all adults get vaccinated against influenza each fall or winter.
- How does the flu vaccine work?Flu vaccines are available as a shot or nasal mist. Given as an injection, the flu shot contains killed flu viruses that will not cause the flu, but will prepare the body to fight off infection by the live flu virus. Getting a shot of the killed virus means a person is protected against that particular type of live flu virus if he or she comes into contact with it. The nasal mist vaccine contains weakened live flu viruses. Because it contains live viruses, the mist is not for people with weakened immune systems or certain health conditions. (From KidsHealth)
- What are the side effects of the flu vaccine? Most people do not experience any side effects after having the vaccine. Some of those vaccinated may have soreness or swelling at the site of the injection or mild side effects, such as headache or low-grade fever. Although these side effects may last for a day, the flu can knock you off your feet for two to three weeks and can cause complications such as pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, and other respiratory problems.
- How else can I protect my child? Wash your hands often and cover your coughs and sneezes. It’s best to use a tissue and quickly throw it away. If you don’t have a tissue, you should cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands. This will prevent the spread of germs. Tell your children to stay away from people who are sick and wash their hands often.
- What are the signs of influenza?Influenza comes on suddenly. Most people with influenza feel extremely fatigued and have a high fever, headache, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and sore muscles. The cough can last two or more weeks. Some people, especially children, may also have stomach problems and diarrhea.
- How long can a sick person spread influenza to others? People can spread influenza from one day before getting sick to up to five or more days after getting sick.
- When can my child go back to school or day care after having influenza? Children with influenza should be isolated in the home, away from other people. They should also stay home until they are symptom free for 24 hours (that is, until they have no fever without the use of fever-control medicines and they feel well for 24 hours). Remind your child to protect others by covering his or her mouth when coughing or sneezing. You may want to send your child to school with tissues or wipes with gels that have alcohol in them if the school allows gels.
Is it the flu or the common cold?
Knowing the difference between the flu and a cold is sometimes difficult.
The following guidelines may help:
- The flu: high fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, loss of appetite, cough (sometimes severe), exhaustion, loss of appetite and sore throat
- The cold: low fever if any, runny nose, little coughing; child’s appetite and energy level are usually not affected
- The “stomach flu” is not the flu. You may hear people use “stomach flu” to describe a gastrointestinal illness with nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. These symptoms can be caused by other viruses, bacteria or even parasites. The flu or influenza is a respiratory illness and not a stomach or intestinal illness.
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