The flu season
6 things parents need to know
By Lizy Varughese, M.D.
The flu season is upon us once again ... what do you need to know as a parent?
1.What are symptoms of the flu?
The flu may start like the common cold with symptoms of cough, congestion and runny nose, but may also be associated with prolonged fever, muscle and body aches and fatigue. It is spread from person to person when an infected person, coughs, sneezes or talks and droplets are released into the air. It can also be spread less often from touching surfaces where drops are present. The flu virus is contagious from up to 1 day before the person presents with symptoms and up to 5-7 days after the symptoms resolve.
2. How can you protect yourself?
The best way to protect yourself is by getting the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available. Most doctors’ offices and clinics currently do have the flu vaccine available. Last year, flu activity peaked at the end of December to the beginning of January, but you may start seeing it as early as September-October this year.
Other means to protect yourself are effective hand washing and wiping down surfaces with anti-bacterial/viral cleansers.
3. Why get the flu vaccine?
In the United States each year, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications. Last year, there were more than 105 pediatric flu related deaths in the United States. On average the effectiveness of the flu vaccine last season was about 61 percent.
4. Who should get the flu vaccine?
- Everyone over the age of 6 months.
- Higher risk populations include those between the ages of 6 months to 5 years, children with asthma or other chronic disease, pregnant women, people with immune problems and adults more than 65 years old.
- Children under the age of 8 MAY require 2 doses of the vaccine 4 weeks apart from each other depending on their previous immunization status.
5. Which flu vaccine is recommended?
There are several options for flu vaccines this year. For 2014–15, U.S.-licensed influenza vaccines will contain the same vaccine virus strains as those in the 2013–14 vaccine.
Trivalent flu vaccine protects against two influenza A viruses (an H1N1 and an H3N2) and an influenza B virus. This is only available in the injectable form.
The quadrivalent flu vaccine protects against two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses. The quadrivalent form is available as an injection and a nasal spray.
Specific Age Recommendations
- 6 months to 2 years: injectable flu vaccine only.
- 2 years to 8 years: nasal form is preferable according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There was 50 percent more effectiveness with the nasal form vs. the injectable form in this age group. If the child is between the ages of 2 and 4 and has asthma or wheezed in the last year, then the injectable form is recommended.
- 8 years and above: either form is acceptable.
6. What happens if you get the flu?
See your health care professional as soon as possible because if it is treated with anti-viral medications in the first 48 hours, the duration as well as the severity of the illness can be decreased. The CDC does not recommend treatment of healthy individuals with anti-viral drugs, but certain high risk populations will benefit from treatment.