Preparing for Flu Season
Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection of the upper respiratory system. Although it is a respiratory disease, the whole body can be affected by the illness. Influenza can make people of all ages ill. Symptoms include fever (which may be as high as 103–105 degrees Fahrenheit), muscle aches and pains, sore throat, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, runny or stuffy nose, a nonproductive cough and fatigue. Influenza outbreaks can start as soon as October and usually peak in January.
Certain populations are at a higher risk of having serious flu-related complications, including pregnant women, children younger than 5 years old, children with chronic medical conditions and anyone who lives with any of the above mentioned populations.
One of the main ways you can keep your children healthy through this time of year is by getting the influenza vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older as the first and most important step in protecting against the flu. If your child is receiving the flu vaccine for the first time and he or she is between 6 months and 8 years old, then a second follow-up vaccine is required four weeks after the first dose for maximum effectiveness.
This year’s flu vaccine is designed to protect against three specific viruses: H3N2, influenza B and H1N1. The protection you get from the flu vaccine will protect you throughout flu season.
There are two types of flu vaccines, intranasal and the injection. The intranasal vaccine is a live vaccine that can only be given to healthy people ages 2–49 who aren’t pregnant and don’t have egg allergies. Intranasal vaccine side effects can include wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches and fever. The injection can be given to anyone because it is not a live vaccine. Side effects of the injected vaccine may include soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site, low-grade fever and aches. These symptoms usually last up to two days. The benefit of receiving the vaccine far outweighs the minimal discomfort that you might feel since many people will not experience any side effects.
In addition to getting vaccinated, it is very important to take everyday precautions to stay healthy. Staying away from people who are sick and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs are two practical but important steps in preventing illness. Also, if you are sick with the flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading the flu to others.
Yearly flu vaccination should begin in September or when the vaccine is first available. Call your pediatrician for vaccine availability.