“Mommy! My head feels hot and my legs hurt. I don’t feel good,” said the little girl. Her mother rushed over and found that her daughter was spiking a fever even though she was fine earlier in the day.
A day later, the little girl had chills, a sore throat, and a hacking cough. Her pediatrician confirmed that she had the flu. The mother wished she had taken the time early in the fall to get her daughter a flu shot, but it didn’t seem important at the time.
The flu is a respiratory illness caused by a virus and is highly contagious. Children can get the flu at school, their daycare, and even playing with toys that have been shared with other children. It is estimated that 10-40% of all children get a form of the flu every year so all children have fairly good odds of contracting the flu.
It should be noted that each incident of the flu can vary in intensity. Many children can get the flu and show very mild symptoms while others can come down with symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization. The problem for parents is that there is no way to predict how a child will react. Even healthy children can experience serious symptoms.
There are three influenza viruses which are identified as types A, B, and C. Most flu outbreaks are caused by strains of the A and B viruses so these are targeted in the flu shot. The flu shot typically contains three virus strains that researchers identify as the most probable to spread in the upcoming year. It is referred to as the trivalent flu vaccine. This year’s vaccine protects against two forms of Influenza A and one form of Influenza B.
Recently a new flu shot has been developed that protects against four strains of the flu. It includes the three forms covered in the trivalent flu vaccine and adds protection for an additional form of Influenza B. This new flu shot is referred to as the quadrivalent vaccine. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends either flu shot but stresses the importance of getting at least one.
There are two ways for children to get immunized against the flu. The more traditional flu shot is injected through a needle. It contains a dead virus which allows for the body to mount an immune response and be prepared if those flu viruses show up later on. The use of a dead virus means it is impossible to get the flu from a flu shot.
The second way to get a flu shot is through a nasal spray. The nasal spray contains a very weakened live virus which makes it extremely unlikely that a child would contract flu through this method. The nasal spray is restricted for use to healthy people between the ages of two years old to 49 years old. Some research has indicated that the nasal spray may work better in preventing the flu in young children.
While flu shots are quite effective in preventing the flu or minimizing symptoms, it only works when children receive the shots. Take some time out of your busy schedule and get a flu shot in the early fall ahead of flu season. That way you and your family will be ready and can get through the winter healthy.
This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on October 5, 2014.