Should My Child Get a Flu Shot?
Influenza, or simply “the flu,” infects millions of people every year around the world, including up to 20 percent of the population in the United States.
Each year, the flu accounts for more than $10 billion in direct medical costs. On average, the flu leads to more than 30 million outpatient office visits, over 100,000 hospitalizations and 30,000 deaths each year.
While most people infected with the flu overcome their symptoms after several days, the flu can be dangerous for children and adults with other health concerns, such as asthma. Respiratory infections such as the flu can lead to severe asthma attacks. Vaccination is the best defense against these complications.
In North America, the influenza season runs from October through May, but normally peaks in the winter months of December, January or February. Vaccinations should be received early in the season as it takes two weeks to develop immunity. Your child can be vaccinated at his physician’s office, a walk-in clinic or through community outreach programs.
Avoiding the flu
National guidelines advise who should receive the flu vaccination. These recommendations help ensure flu vaccine is available to high-risk patients. However, despite the efforts to educate on its value, the influenza vaccination remains underutilized.
- Have an underlying chronic medical condition such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease
- Receive oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone
- Are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer
- Were born prematurely
- Attend daycare
- Attend school
Additionally, all hospital and healthcare providers, and caretakers (including parents) of high-risk patients should also be vaccinated each year. All healthy children over 6 months can also be vaccinated to avoid the discomforts of the flu.
Because the virus used to create flu shots are grown in eggs, children with egg allergy should not be vaccinated without first consulting an allergist/immunologist.
Based on the current guidelines, flu shots are recommended for up to 75 percent of Americans. In contrast to prior influenza seasons, supplies of the vaccine are widely available. Influenza vaccination is safe, effective, and highly recommended for most individuals every year.
Influenza is spread through contact with infected individuals. This is common at school and daycare where children play and interact. In addition to a yearly vaccination, instruct your child to wash his hands with soap and water throughout the day, especially before eating or rubbing his face. Have him use alcohol-based/waterless hand sanitizer and tissues and limit his exposure to people who are sick.
Diagnosing the flu
Influenza can sometimes be difficult to distinguish from a cold or other ailment. Your child’s physician can perform tests to confirm a flu diagnosis, but this isn’t always necessary. Common flu symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
Children may also suffer abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting. There are numerous complications that can occur from influenza, leading to hospitalizations and, in some cases, death. These complications can include pneumonia, sinus infections, broncholitis and ear infections.
Complications are seen most often in very young children and in the elderly, but can occur at any time. Vaccination against the flu is the best way to prevent becoming infected and developing complications.
Treating the flu
If your child comes down with the flu, make sure he gets plenty of rest and drinks plenty of fluids. Control fevers and body aches with acetaminophen. If symptoms become severe, see a physician.
Children and adults with influenza should not return to work or school until after all symptoms have cleared up.
Devang R. Doshi, MD, is Director of Pediatric Allergy, Immunology and Pulmonology at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology is the largest professional medical association devoted to the research and treatment of allergic disease. The AAAAI offers educational materials for patients online at www.aaaai.org.
Reprinted with the permission of the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. © 1996-2008 American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. All Rights Reserved.
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