Health Highlight: Flu season on the way

Steiner CheckupWith fall upon us, flu season is just around the corner.

The flu, or influenza infection, is a viral infection like the common cold. Unlike the common cold, however, the flu causes more severe illness with four to five days of fever, muscle aches, headaches and other symptoms. Though uncommon, some people actually die from the flu each winter.

The flu vaccine is a good idea for families and children. The flu shot does not cause the flu, and it keeps kids and parents from getting sick. There are multiple flu vaccines this year, including a nasal flu vaccine, meaning no shot!

Infants younger than 6 months can't get the vaccine, but if the parents and older kids in the household get it, that will help protect the baby. This is important, because infants are more at risk for serious complications from the flu.

"Parents can help keep their infants safe by getting flu vaccine, and Tdap vaccine, as well," advises Mike Steiner, MD, chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. "People should also wash their hands before holding the new baby. In fact, frequent handwashing during flu season will help protect everyone, not just the baby."

Who Should Be Immunized?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends a flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older. Previously, only certain groups were recommended. But it's especially important that those in higher-risk groups get vaccinated. Those include:

  • All kids 6 months through 4 years old
  • Anyone 65 years and older
  • Women who will be pregnant during flu season
  • Anyone whose immune system is weakened from medications or illnesses (like HIV infection)
  • Residents of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes
  • Any adult or child with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma
  • Kids or teens who take aspirin regularly and are at risk for developing Reye syndrome if they get the flu
  • Health care personnel who have direct contact with patients
  • Caregivers or household contacts of anyone in a high-risk group (like children younger than 6 months)
  • Native Americans and Alaskan natives

Certain circumstances prevent a person from getting the vaccine. If your child falls into any of the groups below, talk to your doctor to see if the vaccine is still recommended:

  • Infants under 6 months old
  • Anyone who's ever had a severe reaction to a flu vaccination
  • Anyone with Guillain-Barré syndrome (a rare condition that affects the immune system and nerves)

You can get the flu vaccine even if you have had mild egg reactions in the past. If your child has an egg allergy, talk to your doctor about getting your vaccination in their office. If your child has severe anaphylactic reaction to eggs, they may not get the vaccine or may get it after meeting with an allergist.

When Should Kids Get Vaccinated?

Flu season runs from October to May. It's best to get a flu shot early in the season, as it gives the body a chance to build up immunity to, or protection from, the flu. But getting a shot later in the season is still better than not getting the vaccine at all.

Those who don't like shots might be able to get the vaccine in a nasal spray. Your doctor can tell you if this is an option for you or your kids.


Special thanks to Dr. Mike Steiner for his contributions to this article.

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