Dr. Dana Johnson: Vaccinations Best Way to Prevent Flu

Featured in the Wisconsin State Journal on October 2, 2013

Dear Dr. Johnson: Do you recommend the flu shot for otherwise healthy school-age children?

Dear Reader: With the fall season here, we are entering cold and flu season, whether we want to admit it or not. Influenza season is October to mid-May, with a peak usually in January or February, although it can vary from year to year. Now is the time to begin taking steps to prevent you and your children from contracting the influenza virus.

Influenza is a respiratory illness with fever, chills, runny nose, cough, sore throat, decreased energy and body aches. Unlike the common cold, influenza symptoms tend to be more severe and often last over a week. Many children with the common cold may miss a day or two of school. Children with influenza often need to be out for an entire week, sometimes more.

Children under 2 years of age, adults over age 65 and those with chronic medical issues (especially lung issues such as asthma) are most likely to suffer from the complications of influenza, which can include bacterial pneumonia, sinus infections, ear infections, dehydration and worsening of underlying health problems.

While small children can have vomiting and diarrhea with influenza, when most people say they have the “stomach flu,” the illness they have is caused by a virus, not influenza.

One of the best ways to decrease your family’s risk of contracting influenza is to have everyone vaccinated. There are two ways to give the vaccine: nasal mist and injection. The injection is approved for age 6 months and up. The nasal vaccine is approved for age 2 to 49 years old. There are some health conditions for which the nasal vaccine is not recommended.

Individuals with egg allergy can receive the flu vaccine. However, if it is a severe egg allergy (more than hives), it is best to discuss with your allergist before receiving the flu vaccination.

While infants under 6 months of age cannot receive the flu vaccine, I recommend all their household members and close contacts do. This limits the risk of the infant coming into contact with someone with influenza.

Some children 8 years old and younger will require two vaccinations a month apart. Your child’s doctor can help you determine if your child needs one or two doses this year.

Some people worry that the influenza vaccine will give them the flu. While it is true that you may experience headache and fever (more common for children under age 2) as well as possible muscle soreness where the shot was given, you cannot get the flu from the vaccine. These symptoms are the effects of the vaccine going into the muscle and your body developing an immune response to the vaccine.

The nose spray can cause a runny nose. It takes about two weeks for antibodies to the flu to develop, so it is possible to contract influenza after the vaccine is given but before immunity has developed.

Most clinics and some pharmacies now have a good supply of flu vaccines, so it is a good time to get you and your family protected. You can find more information about influenza, the vaccination and other ways to keep your family healthy at flu.gov.

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