Dr. Lisa Thornton, a
mother of three, writes the Health Matters monthly
column for Chicago Parent as is the voice behind "The Doctor is In," a Chicago Parent
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The flu is caused by a virus that usually infects people
between October and March. Last year H1N1 caused a pandemic
(worldwide epidemic) and this year H1N1 is included as part of the
seasonal flu vaccine. The symptoms of the flu are:
The flu spreads by droplets when people cough,
sneeze or talk. These droplets travel short distances through the
air and land in the mouths, eyes or noses of people nearby. You can
also get the flu by touching something that an infected person has
touched and then touching your own mouth, eyes or nose.
Some people may think of the flu as a remote risk, but
during last year's flu season more than 20 million children were
infected. Most took a few days off from school and recovered
without trouble, but 87,000 were hospitalized and more than 1,200
children died. Flu severity can vary widely, but children under 5
and those with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes,
severe neurological disorders or heart disease are at a
particularly increased risk for serious complications if they get
Unfortunately, you can't avoid the flu just by avoiding
people who are obviously infected because most people are
contagious for at least one day before they get any symptoms and
stay contagious for about five to seven days after becoming sick.
The infectious period may be longer in children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that ALL
children and adolescents over age 6 months be vaccinated. The
vaccine prevents influenza in about 70-90 percent of healthy
children and if an immunized child does get the disease it is
usually less severe. Children younger than 6 months should not
receive the vaccine and in that case household contacts should be
vaccinated. This is called "cocooning" and it is meant to reduce
the baby's exposure risk by reducing household infections. Children
who have had a severe allergic reaction to eggs or to a previous
flu shot also should not be immunized.
It takes two weeks after being vaccinated for the body to
The most common side effects are soreness, redness or
swelling where the shot was given, which usually last one or two
days. You cannot get the flu from a flu shot, but some people get
fever, muscle pain and feelings of discomfort or weakness that
start shortly after the shot and last one to two days, but this is
As always, the best defense against the flu is to make
sure children wash their hands often, avoid touching their nose,
eyes and mouth and stand at least 3 feet away from infected
Dr. Lisa Thornton, a mother of three, is director of pediatric rehabilitation at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and LaRabida Children’s Hospital. She also is assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago.
See more of Dr. Thornton's stories here.
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