Preparing your family for flu season

Pediatric infectious diseases specialist, Ravi Jhaveri, MD, dispels myths and provides advice on protecting yourself and loved ones from the ill effects of influenza this season.

Preparing your family for flu season click to enlarge Ravi Jhaveri, MD

For those of us with kids in our lives, being stricken ill during flu season almost seems an inevitability, but there are actually some things we can all do to prepare ourselves and our families to better our chances of avoiding illness. 

The severity of the coming flu season will depend on a number of factors:

  • The strains circulating — Activity of last year’s flu season was about average to above average based on the number of people seeking care for respiratory illnesses. We saws a relative resurgence of the 2009 H1N1 virus that caused concern for a possible pandemic, but data from around the world suggest that we may see more of a balance with other flu strains, like H3N2, this flu season.
  • Weather conditions — There are several reasons why winter is flu season. Influenza viruses, carried through the air in droplets, are transmitted much more efficiently when air cool and dry. It also helps the virus that winter means more time indoors, which proves more potential contact with people carrying the virus.
  • The number of people vaccinated — Getting a flu vaccination not only helps prevent you from getting sick; it also protects people around you, including those who may be more vulnerable to serious flu illness (e.g., young children, older adults, and people with chronic health conditions).

Getting vaccinated 

Each flu vaccine is comprised of three or four unique vaccines in one, each protecting against a different flu strain. The composition of this year’s vaccine is the same as last year and appears to be a good match for what we expect to be circulating, although predictions can be wrong. Sometimes new strains of flu can circulate and cause problems, but vaccination remains your best line of defense against the flu virus.

Compared to years past, physicians now recommend flu vaccine for nearly everyone, and we are able vaccinate more people. Despite this, there are still many people who remain unvaccinated due to misperceptions they have about the vaccine.

One of the most common misperceptions we hear is that the flu vaccine itself can cause one to get the flu. In fact, there are many different respiratory viruses that can make people sick, particularly during the winter months. People often assume it was the flu that made them sick, and then blame the vaccine for causing the illness, but that is not true. Thankfully, our ability to test for the flu and many different viruses is slowly helping to dispel this misperception.

New recommendations 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) now recommend the nasal, live flu vaccine (FluMist) for children between 2 years and 8 years old in preference to the injectable flu vaccines. This is based on several studies showing that, in children, it offers better protection. This is not true for adults, however, where other versions of the vaccine are better.

It is important to note that the nasal, live vaccine is not approved for children under 2 years old and is not recommended for patients with certain medical conditions. Children under 2 years of age, yet at least 6 months old, should rely on injectable flu vaccines.

Protecting others

There are no vaccines currently approved for children less than 6 months old, so anyone in routine contact with infants this age should protect themselves in order to protect these vulnerable children. This means parents, siblings, grandparents, caregivers, teachers, and healthcare workers.

If you get sick, stay home! When infected with the flu, you can easily transmit the virus to others. You should stay home until you are fever free for at least 24 hours.

Also, if you get the flu, there are some antiviral medications that may offer some benefit. Seeking medical attention may reduce the severity of symptoms and lessen the length of the illness. Seeing a medical provider is particularly important if you have a chronic condition that puts you at risk for severe symptoms. Please consult your doctor.

Additional Resources

CDC Weekly Flu Report (latest national surveillance data)

North Carolina Flu Data

Submitted by:
Ravi Jhaveri, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, UNC School of Medicine

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