Seasonal flu activity typically occurs between October and May. The CDC recommends getting vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available.
Influenza is dangerous – much more dangerous than the common cold. It can lead to hospitalization, ICU admission or even death. In the 2018-2019 flu season, 116 kids died. Of those children, 70 percent did not receive that year’s flu vaccine, and 50 percent were healthy before they got the flu. That is why getting the vaccine is so important.
Seasonal flu activity typically occurs between October and May. The CDC recommends getting vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available, if possible by October. However, getting vaccinated later can still be beneficial.
What is the difference between a cold and the flu?
Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Viruses also cause colds but generally; do not make the patient as ill. Your health care provider may make the diagnosis based on symptoms and exam or can do a flu swab in the nose. Since viruses cause both types of illness, antibiotics won’t help.
How does the flu spread?
The flu spreads through droplets – sneezing, coughing, blowing your nose – and can stay on surfaces for a period of time. If someone with the flu touches a surface and you touch it a short time after them, you could get it. That’s why hand washing and covering your/your child’s mouth when you/they sneeze or cough is so important.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Many symptoms of the flu are similar to other viruses. You can have fever, chills, sore throat, cough, runny/stuffy nose, headache, stomachache and body aches. The flu is more of a respiratory virus, not so much a vomiting/diarrhea one. Symptoms can last for up to a week. You can also get complications from the flu, such as pneumonia, sinus infections, ear infections, and even blood infections.
My child was tested and has the flu. What now?
The most important thing you can do is keep them comfortable and hydrated. If they don’t want to eat, that is okay – most of us don’t want to eat when we’re sick. However, it is important to stay hydrated. Be sure to push fluids – Pedialyte is a good choice for children and even comes in popsicles. With kids two years and older, ensure they are peeing at least three times in 24 hours. In kids who are two years and younger, ensure they are peeing at least four times in 24 hours.
Why do we have to get a flu shot every season?
The flu viruses are constantly changing to get around our defenses and make us sick. The CDC works year round collecting data to figure out which strains of flu will be most prevalent year to year.
I heard the flu shot does not really work. Why should I get it?
There are many misconceptions about the flu shot. Is it 100% effective at preventing the flu? No. Scientists do their best to create a vaccine each year based on the research they have done on the previous year’s flu strains. Although effectiveness does vary from year to year, the CDC estimates the flu vaccine reduces your risk of getting the flu by 40-60% when the vaccine is well matched to circulating viruses. A bigger point is that the flu vaccine has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of death in children. A study published in Pediatrics in 2017 showed that between 2010 and 2014, the flu vaccine reduced the risk of flu-related death by 51% (half!) among children with other high-risk medical conditions. It also reduced the risk of death in healthy children by 65%. It is also important to note that if you get the flu shot and still end up getting the flu, symptoms will last for a shorter period and will not be as severe.
Which kids have to get two doses of the flu shot and why?
If it is your child’s first flu season receiving the vaccine and they are nine years old or younger, they will receive two doses of the vaccine four weeks apart. This helps prime their immune system. The first shot shows their body what the flu viruses looks like and the second shot is a reminder to make antibodies that are even more protective. Once they get two doses of the flu shot their first season, they only need one dose each season after that.
My baby is under six months old. How can I protect them from getting sick?
The best things you can do is have everyone else in the house (or who will be around your baby) vaccinated and practice good hand washing. If you have older kids in the house, teach them about hand washing, sneezing/coughing into their arm, and avoid kissing the baby if they are sick.
My child is healthy. Do they still need the flu shot?
Unfortunately, every year there are healthy kids and adults who die from influenza. Getting a flu shot reduces the risk of your child being hospitalized due to the flu and/or its complications. Additionally, it protects those around them – older adults who have weakened immune systems, people with cancer, and babies who are too young to be vaccinated.
I get sick every time I get the flu shot. Why should I get it?
If you feel crummy after you get a shot that can be a good thing! It means your immune system is up and running, working to create antibodies to protect you in the future. When you get a shot, it triggers an inflammatory response in your body, a very similar type of response that is triggered when you get an infection. It is the same reason kids sometimes get a fever after their childhood immunizations – their immune system is getting to work.
Sometimes you may feel feverish or achy after getting a shot, but it is a small price to pay for how sick you could get the flu. The most common complaint we hear after giving a flu shot is some soreness around the area where the shot was given.
I heard the flu nasal spray is back again this year. Can we do that instead of the flu shot?
Yes – as long as your child does not have a history of asthma/wheezing/respiratory problems and is two years or older. Last year, we still recommended the injections over the nasal vaccine since it was the first year back on the market after being removed in the 2017-2018 season. Based on data from the 2018-2019 season, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends either the injection or the mist.
If you have more questions, please talk to your child’s pediatrician. Remember, it takes about two weeks for your body to build up an antibody response, so the earlier you get the vaccine, the better.