Short stuff: Health Roundup
For the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children 6 months old to 5 years old get a flu shot.
Like elderly people, children in this age group are considered high risk for complications or hospitalizations from the flu, according to Dr. Julie Morita, medical director of the Immunization Program at the Chicago Public Health Department.
The CDC recommends that the parents and caregivers of small children and people in other high risk groups also get the vaccine. Pregnant women, people age 50 and older and people with compromised immune systems and chronic conditions such as asthma, heart disease and diabetes are considered high risk.
"But in addition to that, anybody who doesn't have these conditions can get a flu vaccine as well," Morita adds.
It has only been within the past few years the CDC has expanded the flu shot recommendation to young children. Infants younger than 6 months should not get the vaccine.
"It's been fairly confusing," Morita says about the changing recommendations. "Because in the past few years there has been delays or shortages of vaccines and so we've had to prioritize who can get the vaccine."
No shortage is expected this year so the CDC has broadened the recommendations for kids.
The side effects of the flu shot are generally mild and include soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site. Low-grade fever and aches are rarer, Morita says.
Some formulations of flu shot have thimerosol, a preservative sometimes used in vaccines that some parents fear may be linked to autism. "There's been five really well-done studies recently that have found that there is no association between thimerosol or mercury or autism," Morita says.
Still there are five different flu shot formulations available, some that are thimerosol-free so parents should talk to their health care providers about the options.
And just because cold weather has already hit doesn't mean it's too late to get vaccinated. "We often don't see the peak of our flu illness in Chicago until February so vaccination in December is still appropriate," Morita explains. "People have a misconception about the flu being a really mild illness, which it's not."
Joanna Broder is a writer living in Evanston with her husband.