This flu season has rampantly hit the United States, bringing hundreds of children and their family members into our clinic, most cases mild, but some pretty severe. Like most stories regarding the flu craze that you may see on your news feed, health experts often suggest a plethora of best practices to best protect yourself and your family from this year’s influenza. I tell all of my patient families that when they start seeing footballs fly around on television near the end of the summer, they should start thinking about setting up an appointment to get their yearly influenza vaccinations. It’s that simple! Let’s talk about flu shots.
Science has proven that getting the flu vaccine in the fall is the best way to protect yourself, your family members and your community at large from influenza every fall, winter and spring. We do see a moderate reduction in symptoms for those who have been vaccinated but still end up developing fever and other flu symptoms. I have been keeping an unofficial tally in my head of the positive flu cases I have seen so far this season. I would estimate that while 3-5 percent of the kids I have diagnosed with the flu have had their vaccine in the fall or winter of last year, nearly 95 percent of these kids did NOT get their vaccine. So, while the vaccine cannot completely prevent the virus from causing illness, it lessens the odds tremendously and minimizes symptoms if they do develop. It’s also important to note that this year’s vaccine might not be as effective as intended, but children ages 6 months to 8 years have been responding significantly better to it in comparison to older Americans.
So far, in my clinic, of the positive flu cases I’ve seen, 99 percent are type influenza A. This particular strain, compared to type influenza B, does not often bring about the worrisome symptoms and/or complications that impact those who develop influenza B. However, like the experts are predicting, this tells me that more cases of influenza B, as well as plenty more cases of influenza A, are coming for February and beyond. For the above reasons, we strongly suggest getting yourself and your family members fully vaccinated against influenza this year if you haven’t done so, and every year moving forward. At some point, clinics will run low on supply, but that doesn’t mean you should not get one right now.
And lastly, for the people concerned about side effects from the flu vaccine or the pain that comes with it, it’s important for me to note that I haven’t had one family call me to report any post-vaccine side effects, such as fever or flu-like symptoms at all in many years. I hear stories about someone getting just as sick from the vaccine as from the flu itself – this may be what is perceived, but if this occurred with high frequency, there would be no point in having a vaccine in the first place. This year’s flu vaccine didn’t bring me any side effects, and was pain-free when I got it at the start of football season. Please, do the same for yourself and your children.
If a child is infected with the flu and exhibiting common symptoms, many will ask how to tell if their child is becoming too ill to be taken care of at home. The two most important factors that will determine whether a child needs to be seen by a doctor are work of breathing and fluid intake. If your child is obviously dehydrated or working too hard to breathe, no matter the cause, the prognosis worsens as it lengthens, so we suggest calling your pediatrician for advice.
Dr. Wigder’s original blog post on evaluating winter flu symptoms can be found here.