Influenza / Flu
Influenza (Flu) is an illness caused by a respiratory virus. The flu is often confused with common cold, because of the similarity in symptoms. Flu season usually starts in the fall and ends in the spring. The flu virus is common and unpredictable, and it can cause serious complications and death, even in healthy children. Each year, on average, 5 – 20% of the U.S. population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from complications.
How Flu Spreads
Flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. Although people with the flu are most contagious within the first three to four days after their illness begins, some may be able to infect others one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick.
- Fever (usually above 101°F or 38.3°C)
- Chills and body shakes
- Headache, body aches, Fatigue
- Sore throat
- Dry, cough
- Stuffy, runny nose
- Cervical lymphadenopathy
- Some children may throw up (vomit) and have loose stools (diarrhea)
Children younger than five years of age – especially those younger than two years old – are at high risk of serious flu-related complications. Others like people with asthma, heart disease, diabetes, weakened immune systems, and pregnant women are also at high risk for complications of influenza. Potential complications from influenza in children include viral pneumonia, secondary bacterial pneumonia or bacteremia, otitis media, respiratory failure, encephalopathy, seizures, prolonged hospitalization, and death.
The flu vaccine is the best way to protect against getting the flu.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual influenza immunization for all people ages six months and older, including children and adolescents. In addition, household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children with high risk conditions and all children under the age of five especially should be vaccinated.
The Flu Vaccine:
- Protects your child from flu, a potentially serious illness
- Protects your child from spreading flu to others, including babies younger than 6 months who are too young to get the vaccine
- Keeps your child from missing school or child care (and keeps you from missing work to care for your child)
Flu Vaccine Safety
Flu vaccines are safe and have been used in the United States for more than 50 years. During that time, hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received seasonal flu vaccines. Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects, but, most people who get the flu vaccine have no side effects or side effects that are mild and short lasting.
The most common side effects are pain and tenderness at the site of injection. Fever is also seen in some children within 24 hours after immunization. Those side effects are usually mild and resolve on their own in a couple of days.
The vaccines are not 100% effective but vaccinated people who get the flu usually get a mild form of the disease.
The influenza vaccine doesn’t cause autism. A robust body of research continues to show that the influenza vaccine is safe and is not associated with autism. The flu vaccine can be given at the same time as other vaccines.
It is also important to note that children six months through eight years of age may need two doses spaced one month apart to be fully protected.
Children with an egg allergy can safely get the flu shot from their pediatrician without going to an allergy specialist. Even those with a history of severe egg allergy don’t have to treat getting the flu vaccine differently than getting any other vaccine, because these people are not likely to have a reaction to the flu vaccine.
Why does my child need a flu vaccine every year?
Flu viruses are constantly changing, so a new vaccine is made each year to protect against the flu viruses that are likely to cause the most illness. Also, protection provided by the flu vaccination wears off over time. Your child’s flu vaccine will protect against the flu all season, but vaccination will be needed again the next flu season.
Children may benefit from extra rest and drinking lots of fluids. If your child is uncomfortable because of a fever, acetaminophen or ibuprofen in doses recommended by your pediatrician for his age and weight will help him feel better. Ibuprofen is approved for use in children six months of age and older; however, it should not be given to children who are dehydrated or who are vomiting continuously.
It is extremely important never to give aspirin to a child who has the flu or is suspected of having the flu. Aspirin during bouts of influenza is associated with an increased risk of developing Reye syndrome.
General Flu Guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- If you or your child gets sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you (or your child) stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. The fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
- If an outbreak of flu or another illness occurs, follow public health advice. This may include information about how to increase distance between people and other measures.