A new policy statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics urges moms and dads to act early this year in protecting their children from the flu. The severity of the flu varies from year to year and because of this, it is extremely important to protect children of all ages from the various strains that exist.
More than one-hundred and fifty children died last year from the flu. While the influenza virus is dangerous for infants and young children, it is preventable. Remember, influenza can be contagious even 24 hours before symptoms start. Back to school time is hectic enough and the last thing parents want to worry about is their son or daughter coming down with the flu. Accompanied by the fever, body aches and cough the flu can also lead to severe discomfort and, if not treated quickly and effectively, can lead to even more serious infections like pneumonia. For younger children it can even be deadly.
“It’s my job as both a pediatrician and a mother to make sure my patients and my own children are protected during flu season.” says Dr. Dyan Hes, Medical Director at Gramercy Pediatrics. “Last year I had a few families who opted out of the flu vaccine. Sadly, when one of their children caught the flu, they ran to the office to get their other children vaccinated. They all regretted having not heeded my warning.”
The timing of flu season is very unpredictable. “I wish it was as easy as marking our calendars for the start of flu season,” adds Dr. Hes. “The season can begin as early as October and can extend to February or even later. For this reason, the earlier your children are immunized, the better chance they’ll have to ward off the virus when it rears its ugly head.”
Here are some things for parents to consider when scheduling a flu shot for their children:
1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends children between the ages of 6 months through 18 years get vaccinated every fall or winter. Two doses of the vaccine will be required for children between the ages of 6 months to 9 years old who are receiving the flu shot for the first time. The first dose should be given in September and the second dose (booster) at least 28 days after the first.
2. Most kids who suffer from egg allergies can still be safely vaccinated by their pediatrician. A consultation with an allergy specialist is recommended if a child has a history of severe allergic reactions to eggs. There is a new egg free vaccine on the market for adults ages 18-49. If you are severely allergic to eggs, please consult your physician.
3. This year there are some new methods and options to consider when getting the flu shot. Gone are the days of the one size fits all solution, today there is something for everyone.
The traditional three-strain shot: As the name states, this shot protects against three separate strains of influenza. The trivalent vaccine is made with two A viruses and one B virus. It’s recommended for everyone 6 months and older.
The four-strain shot: Protects against four strains of influenza. The quadrivalent vaccine protects against an additional B strain. This is also the vaccine that will eventually replace the three-strain shot.
Nasal Spray: For children who are squeamish when it comes to needles (and many are), there’s FluMist Quadrivalent. It’s a vaccine that is squirted into the nasal passages. The spray protects against four strains of the influenza virus. It’s important to note that FluMist is a weakened version of live flu virus and is not recommended for everyone. It is not recommended for people with hypersensitivity to eggs, whether anaphylactic or non-anaphylactic. It is not given to children younger than age 2 years or older than age 49 years or age 2 through 4 years with possible reactive airways disease. (e.g. history of recurrent wheezing or a recent wheezing episode). Children or teens on an aspirin regimen or those suffering from asthma or breathing problems should not get FluMist.
Micro-needles: Rather than a single large needle, Fluzone Intradermal contains a panel of micro-needles, which are 90% smaller than the type used for the standard injection. These penetrate only the top layer of skin instead of the muscle. This year’s version protects against three strains of influenza. This shot too is approved for those aged 18-64.
Parents should also get the flu shot. This will ensure that they are not putting their own sons and daughters at risk of contracting the virus this season. Babysitters, nannies, grandparents, older siblings, and any other caregivers should also get immunized as a precaution. This is an important way to protect children of any age but especially those who are under the age of five or have a chronic health problem like asthma or diabetes.
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