As summer memories fade and your kids settle into their back-to-school routines, it’s important to include flu vaccinations on your family’s to-do list.
Flu can be a serious illness, especially for high-risk patients including young children and kids with chronic conditions such as asthma. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 178 flu-related deaths in children during the 2017-18 flu season. “Getting a flu vaccination each year is a safer choice than risking the illness,” said Jennifer Dwyer, M.D., of Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics, Barberton. “Parents and grandparents should get flu vaccines to protect children. And kids should be vaccinated to reduce flu risk among the adults in their lives.”
One misconception is that the flu vaccine can make you sick. “That’s not the case because the vaccine doesn’t contain a ‘live’ flu virus,” Dr. Dwyer explained. “If you come down with flu the day after vaccination, you were likely going to get sick anyway. It takes 1-4 days from getting the flu to when symptoms begin to show.”
Flu symptoms usually start suddenly and may include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and feeling very tired. “Even if the vaccine doesn’t prevent the flu altogether,” Dr. Dwyer said, “it can help lessen the length and the severity of being sick.”
Getting your child vaccinated at the pediatrician’s office provides many benefits. “We know your child’s medical history and vaccination records. At Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics, we vaccinate children starting at 6 months – which is younger than many drug stores that offer flu shots,” Dr. Dwyer shared. “The pediatrician’s office is a one-stop shop in that we can vaccinate children whether they are ill or well. If you bring in your child for a sick visit, we can also give the flu vaccine.”
Flu season occurs in the fall and winter, although the duration varies each year. “You don’t have to wait until flu season starts to get vaccinated,” Dr. Dwyer said. “You can get the vaccine as early as August, and it will last for a year.”
Most people who get flu have a mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. However, pregnant women and parents of high-risk children should contact their doctors upon onset of flu symptoms.
In children, emergency warning signs of flu include:
- Trouble breathing.
- Not drinking enough fluids.
- Bluish skin color.
- Flu symptoms that improve and then return with a fever and worsening cough.
“In addition to these signs, seek medical help right away for any infant who isn’t eating, has trouble breathing, doesn’t shed tears when crying or has significantly fewer wet diapers than usual,” Dr. Dwyer offered.
For the 2018-19 flu season, the CDC has approved a nasal spray flu vaccine in addition to the flu shot. “Talk to your child’s pediatrician about what is best,” Dr. Dwyer said. “Although there may be different options to choose from, what is most important is for families to protect themselves by getting flu vaccines every year.”