Here’s the scoop: the flu is no joke. Parents often confuse other viruses with flu-like symptoms with the actual flu. But if you’ve experienced the influenza virus itself, you know it’s not to be taken lightly. And while the Centers for Disease Control recommends the flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older, it can be especially dangerous for little ones under 5 and children with underlying medical conditions
What Is the Flu Virus?
Seasonal influenza, also known as the flu, is a respiratory illness caused by several types of influenza viruses. Over any given season, there are usually several flu viruses in circulation, so the public health community does their best to come up with vaccines that prevent the most common strains. Influenza has no relation to the so-called stomach flu, which is caused by completely different intestinal viruses and isn’t the flu at all.
What Are the Benefits of Getting A Flu Shot?
According to the CDC, the flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu. This can be done either with a traditional flu shot or a nasal spray depending on the age of the patient and some other factors. According to the CDC anywhere from 7,000 to 26,000 children under 5 are hospitalized in the US. each year because of flu-related complications and as many as 183 children have died from flu in a single season in recent years.
What Are the Dangers of the Flu in Young Children?
The flu is serious business, and though it’s rarely fatal, it can have some serious health risks, especially in younger children. According to the CDC, some of the dangers include:
- Sinus problems
- Brain problems and changes in mental state
- In rare occasions, the flu can cause death in young children
At What Age Should My Child Start Flu Shots?
The CDC recommends flu vaccines starting at 6 months old. When children are getting their first flu shot, we give them two doses about one month apart to get the immune system going and start building up protection. After that, once a year is all that’s needed.
How Can I Protect My Infant From the Flu?
For children under 6 months old, the best way to provide protection is to make sure that parents, caregivers and family members get the flu vaccine. The flu is not transmitted by breastmilk, and in fact, mom’s antibodies can be transmitted through breast milk, offering unvaccinated infants protection against the flu and other viruses.
When Is The Best Time Of Year To Get A Flu Shot?
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot by the end of October. With peak flu season usually happening December through February, getting vaccinated ahead of that window gives children’s bodies a chance to build up those antibodies and get protected before the virus hits. Flu cases are already being reported around Loudoun County, so now is the time to get that shot.
What About The Nasal Mist Flu Vaccine?
The nasal mist flu vaccine (which contains an attenuated live virus) is once again available after being removed from the market for two seasons, not because of safety concerns but because some studies showed it to be less effective at protecting patients against certain flu strains. The vaccine has been proven safe and effective for most children preschool age and up, but the AAP still recommends the shot for children when possible for all children and always for children with certain conditions:
- Children with weakened immune systems
- Children taking certain medications
- Children ages 2 to 4 with asthma or a history of wheezing
- The CDC also recommends precautions for children 5 and over with asthma or with underlying conditions including lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease or diabetes or neurologic or metabolic disorders.
Our office does have the nasal mist in stock and can administer in cases where shots are a barrier to getting a flu vaccine. However, we prefer the shot for our patients for the best possible coverage. We are happy to talk with parents about which flu vaccine is best for their child.
How Common Are Negative Side Effects From Flu Vaccinations?
Serious side effects or allergic reactions are very rare, but according to the CDC, there can be mild temporary side effects from the flu vaccine, including:
- Soreness, redness or swelling from the shot
- Muscle aches
Some studies have found a possible link between the flu shot and the neurological condition known as Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). However this occurs only in around 1 case per million vaccinations, and it’s important to note GBS is actually more common after having the flu than after receiving a flu shot according to the CDC.
Do Flu Shots Ever Cause the Flu?
The suggestion that flu shots cause the flu is an occasionally circulated myth. The flu vaccine does not cause the flu since the viruses used in vaccines are either inactivated/dead (shots) or weakened (sprays). Some patients do become sick with another strain of flu even though they have been vaccinated, but getting immunized is still your best bet for all-around protection.
Getting Your Flu Shot at Loudoun Pediatric Associates
We strongly recommend flu shots for our young patients to help keep them healthy as well as protecting the babies, seniors and other immune-compromised folks in their lives. And while one more vaccine can sometimes seem inconvenient or unnecessary, the bottom line is that the positives and protections far outweigh any highly unlikely complications. Contact our office to find out about scheduling a flu shot or nasal spray for your child and find out which vaccine will work best for you.