Flu season is here, and every year parents come to us with questions about the flu vaccine. Who should get a flu shot? When is the best window for flu shots? Here are some updates and a little myth-busting about the flu and what you can expect this year.
Who Should Get a Flu Shot?
With a few rare exceptions, everyone 6 months and older should get the flu vaccine every year. There are numerous vaccines and doses available to meet everyone’s needs from babies to seniors. Getting your flu shot is the best thing you can do to protect young children, seniors and other at-risk populations from a potentially dangerous virus. In most cases, only people with severe, life-threatening allergies to vaccine ingredients should skip the vaccine. Contrary to one common myth, most children and adults with egg allergies can get the vaccine. If your child has allergies, talk with your pediatrician about any concerns.
When Should My Family Get Their Flu Shots?
Believe it or not, vaccination time is already here, so contact your Loudoun Pediatric Associates about appointments and clinics. And don’t forget your own vaccination–it’s an important part of keeping your family healthy. This year, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that adults and children get their flu vaccinations by the end of October. Some younger children may need two doses of the flu vaccine: two doses are required for children 8 and under who have not had at least two vaccinations as of July 2019. In this case, children should get their first dose as soon as possible and their second dose at least four weeks later. Remember, unlike other childhood vaccines, your child needs a flu vaccine every year.
When Is Flu Season?
Flu Season, the period when the influenza infections become more common and eventually reach their peak, usually runs from fall through late spring. The peak is often between December and February but varies from year to year.
Why Do Flu Vaccines Change Every Year?
Influenza (or flu) is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system, including the nose, throat and lungs. It can be dangerous and even deadly in high-risk groups like the elderly. Vaccines are designed to combat the two types of flu most likely to affect humans: Influenza A and Influenza B. The difference between the two types is that Influenza A viruses can affect both people and animals while B viruses affect humans only. Type A viruses are the ones with pandemic potential, and many parents remember the news 10 years ago when a new H1N1 strain caused the first major flu pandemic in more than 40 years. Flu viruses are constantly changing, so the medical community works to identify three or four strains that will be most common during any given season. This year’s vaccines for children and adults under 65 cover four strains based on researchers’ estimates of which ones will be most problematic this season.
What Can I Expect From Flu SeasonThis Year?
At the beginning of the season, it’s tough to tell how severe the flu will be and whether vaccine composition is on target. However, several news outlets have reported that the rough 2019 flu season in Australia (which ended earlier this fall) sometimes gives a hint at the prospects in the U.S. and suggests a bad winter here. The CDC keeps close tabs throughout the year on whether this year’s flu vaccines “match” currently circulating strains. But regardless, getting your flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu.
Can My Child Get the Flu If They’re Vaccinated?
The flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu. However, according to the CDC, there’s a chance you can still get the flu even if you’ve had your shot. You may be exposed to a different strain or may not be fully protected from one of the strains in this year’s vaccine. But even if you get the flu, your vaccination can mean a less severe illness and protect you from the worst effects of the virus. The flu vaccine has also been shown to protect against strains that are similar but not the same as the ones in the vaccine.
Can You Get the Flu from the Flu Vaccine?
You can’t get the flu from a vaccination. Injected flu vaccinations use dead, non-infectious viruses. Nasal spray flu vaccines use weakened live viruses (like some other childhood vaccines) that do not cause influenza infection.
Is the Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine Effective?
For several years, pediatricians declined to offer the nasal spray flu vaccine after data from the beginning of the decade showed it to be less effective than the flu shot, in particular at fighting the dangerous H1N1 strain. However, recent studies suggest that the nasal spray’s performance has improved, and this year the CDC does not have a preference for the shot or spray. The nasal spray is for children 2 and older only and is not recommended for children with certain chronic illnesses and those taking certain medications. Talk with your pediatrician about which version is best for your child.
What Are Other Preventive Measures for Avoiding the Flu?
In addition to getting the flu shot for adults and children in your household, here are some common-sense suggestions from the CDC for lowering risk:
- Regular and thoughtful handwashing.
- When possible, avoid places where people are likely to be sick.
- If you or your child have flu-like symptoms, stay home from work or school.
Will Antiviral Flu Medications Help My Child?
Antiviral flu medications can shorten the length and severity of the flu by helping the body fight the virus. The CDC recommends antivirals for children who have “severe, complicated or progressive” cases of influenza, in children younger than 5 and in children who have chronic health conditions like asthma or diabetes. The familiar drug known as Tamiflu is approved for children and infants, and other antivirals are approved for flu in older children, including the new single-dose Baloxavir approved for children 12 and older. These medications are usually most effective when taken within two days of getting sick.
What Other Flu-Like Viruses Should I Be Aware Of?
There’s a lot of buzz lately about adenoviruses which cause flu-like symptoms but usually milder than the flu. Adenoviruses are common in children and can cause fever, sore throat, bronchitis, diarrhea and vomiting. Unless your child has an underlying health concern, symptoms are usually mild, and rest and fluids are the best treatment.
Rhinovirus or the common cold can also seem similar to the flu, but symptoms are usually milder. A runny nose tends to be a telltale sign of a cold, while fever is much more common with the flu. Vigilant handwashing is the best way to fight these common viruses.
Schedule Your Child’s Flu Shot Now for a Healthy Winter
This fall, getting the flu vaccine for family members over 6 months old is one of the most important things you can do to keep your household healthy. Getting the flu shot also helps protect vulnerable populations including the seniors in your life, newborns and your children’s friends and classmates with compromised immune systems. At Loudoun Pediatric Associates, our staff is ready to be proactive in this year’s fight against the flu. And as always, happy to talk with you about any questions or concerns.