Parents: Has your child got a flu shot yet?
Each year, millions of children get sick with the flu, thousands are hospitalized and some even die from the flu. To help protect children against influenza, parents are encouraged to get their child vaccinated annually, and if you haven’t done so, now is the time.
Children and the elderly are most at risk of contracting the deadly disease.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. The flu can cause mild to severe symptoms, including high fever, sore throat, muscle ache, headache and possible vomiting and diarrhea. It can lead to worse conditions, such as pneumonia, or even death.
Children, especially those younger than five or with underlying health conditions, are easily vulnerable to the flu. The flu virus is highly contagious and can spread from child to child just by sneezing or coughing. The virus also can live for a short time on surfaces, such as doorknobs, toys, phones, pens and keyboards.
“Influenza is pretty easy to get if you are exposed to it,” says Dr. John Rowlett, director of pediatric emergency medicine at St. Joseph’s/Candler. “It’s hard to hide from the virus. The best thing to do is to get the vaccine so you are protected from it.”
Nearly 80,000 Americans died from the flu during the 2017-2018 season. Almost 200 of those deaths were children and about 80 percent of those deaths occurred in children who had not received a flu vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Rowlett admitted 21 children for overnight stays to Candler Hospital due to the flu virus in 2018. While there were no flu-related child deaths at St. Joseph’s/Candler, there were some in our region. Already this flu season, a child died in Florida from the flu. The child, who was healthy before getting sick, had not received the flu vaccine.
“The thing about influenza is it doesn’t care. It will kill a healthy person,” Dr. Rowlett says.
The best defense against getting the flu is the flu vaccine. Getting vaccinated can reduce flu illnesses, doctor’s visits, missed work and school and prevent flu-related hospitalizations and even deaths in children.
The vaccine is recommended for everyone older than 6 months. If the child is between 6 months to 8 years old and is getting the vaccine for the first time, two vaccines are needed, and then, it’s one annually. Flu season is typically October through late April so if your child has not received the flu vaccine yet now is the time.
“The vaccine is not a perfect vaccine but it is a whole lot better than no vaccine,” Dr. Rowlett says.
This year, there are two options on how to receive the flu vaccine: the tradition flu shot and the nasal spray vaccine. The nasal spray vaccine is approved for people 2 through 49 years old. One is not recommended over the other, Dr. Rowlett says. However, the nasal spray vaccine may not be suitable for people with certain medical conditions. Also, the nasal spray vaccine is not covered by all insurances. Talk to your child’s health care provider to determine which vaccine is best for your child.
For children younger than 6 months, the best way to protect them against the flu is to make sure people around them are vaccinated.
“The more people immunized against influenza, the less effective the virus is at moving quickly through a community,” Dr. Rowlett says.
Where to get your child vaccinated
One of the benefits to getting the vaccine is the convenience, Dr. Rowlett says. Most pediatricians offer the flu vaccine. Some companies offer it to employees and dependents. Even your neighborhood pharmacy offers the vaccine.
“You can make it a family project – everybody goes together and gets one,” Dr. Rowlett says.
In addition to getting vaccinated, Dr. Rowlett reminds people of all ages to always wash their hands and use anti-bacterial sanitizer frequently, especially in grocery stores and shopping centers during cold and flu season.