Flu season: Protecting and treating your child against Influenza

Beautiful colors and cooler temperatures are some of the anticipated joys of fall. Yet they are also a signal that it’s the time of year to prepare our families for the inevitable flu season, which usually begins in the fall and can extend into spring. Viruses such as enterovirus D68 and Ebola have been all over the news recently, but it’s important to point out that influenza presents an even greater, imminent danger.

Every year there are childhood deaths related to influenza and it is, in most cases, a preventable disease. The current recommendation backed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is that everyone over the age of six months receive an annual influenza vaccine. As soon as the flu vaccine is available, routine vaccination should begin. Unfortunately, some manufacturers have experienced delays in production causing some delays in shipping vaccine to physician offices. Parents should check with their physician to see when the vaccine will be available.

Is the flu vaccine effective?

The flu vaccine is very effective, but it does not contain every strain of flu. The CDC monitors the different types of flu strains and the vaccine may vary from year to year to cover those strains. If the vaccine does not cover the type of flu in a particular community, individuals may still contract the flu. Also, last year’s vaccination does not protect you this year. Immunity decreases to 50 percent over a six- to 12-month period, so it’s important to get vaccinated annually.

Are there different types of flu vaccine?

There are two different types of vaccine, the inactivated influenza vaccine that is given by injection, and the live attenuated influenza vaccine that is given by nasal spray. This year there are both trivalent and quadrivalent type vaccines. The latter contains an additional subtype of influenza. There are also different preparations of the vaccine, which may or may not contain preservative. Children who have chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma or other high-risk conditions should receive the injectable form. For healthy children between the ages of two and eight, the intranasal vaccine has actually been shown to provide greater protection. Any child over six months can receive the injectable vaccine, while the intranasal vaccine is indicated for people age two to 49.

What are the side effects?

Most commonly, the side effects are local pain and tenderness at an injection site, but headache, muscle aches and chills also can occur. Young children may get a fever within the first 24 hours after injection. The intranasal flu vaccine may cause runny nose, headache, muscle aches and fever occasionally, as well. But it’s important to know that these side effects are not the flu!

Flu vaccine can safely be given at the same time as other vaccines. Patients who have a severe egg allergy should be given their flu vaccine under the supervision of their allergist. Children with a mild egg allergy can take the vaccine safely.

What are the symptoms of the flu and can it be treated?

Influenza is primarily a respiratory virus. Children will have nasal congestion, cough, sore throat, headache, muscle aches and usually run a high fever. Influenza is not the virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea, commonly called “stomach flu.”

There are antiviral agents that can be used to shorten the duration of symptoms of the flu. These medications are commonly used in hospitalized patients or children with other medical conditions but can be used by any child over one year of age in circumstances where shortening the duration is important. These medications work best when they are initiated within the first 48 hours of symptoms.

As with any viral illness, it is important to maintain good hydration, good nutrition and adequate rest. Frequent hand washing and reminding your child to cough and sneeze into a tissue will help prevent spread, but prevention with early vaccination is the key.

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