flu vaccine still important, despite strain mismatch
hand washing also key element to staying well
With the recent news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the flu strain hitting the country, many parents may be wondering if the flu vaccine is still a good idea. The answer is yes. “The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone older than 6 months,” says Sherman Alter, MD, medical director of the infectious disease department at Dayton Children’s Hospital. “Regardless of which strain circulates, the flu vaccine will still provide children with a great deal of protection from those strains included in the vaccine, and some protection even against those strains that may have mutated.”
While we are just beginning to see our first flu cases, a new alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns it could be a rough season.
The alert says that influenza A (H3N2) viruses have been the most frequently reported strains in almost all states so far this year. In past seasons, influenza A has been associated with more hospitalizations and deaths, especially in at risk groups – the sick, the elderly and very young children.
In addition, while this year’s vaccine did include influenza A (H3N2), the CDC says about half of the strains seen so far have been a different variety than the one in the vaccine. The vaccine will still offer protection against this mutation, however its effectiveness may be decreased.
“If parents haven’t already taken their child for a flu vaccine, they should do so as soon as possible,” says Dr. Alter. “The vaccine offers protection against other flu strains that are circulating in our area, such as H1N1 and the B strains. And remember, only about half of the cases of A strains are the mutated variety. The vaccine will still protect your child from the half that hasn’t mutated, as well as provide some level of protection against the mutated strain.”
It’s also important that parents teach their children ways to avoid spreading the flu.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently with soap, especially after using the bathroom, after coughing or sneezing and before eating.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then put it in the trash.
- If a tissue isn't available, cough or sneeze into your upper arm, not into your hands.
- Never pick up used tissues.
- Never share cups and eating utensils.
- Stay home from school when you’re sick with the flu.
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