Rachel McGuffey, M.D., Lexington Clinic Pediatrics
Fall is here. The children have returned to school, and soon, the illnesses will begin to spread. It is time to think about prevention for those wintertime illnesses.
The Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children age 6 months to 18 receive a flu vaccine. In addition, healthcare workers, pregnant women, and household contacts and care providers for those children with chronic illnesses and under the age of 5 also should receive flu vaccines. The flu vaccination this year protects against both H1N1 and seasonal flu.
Young children, in addition to the elderly, are at most risk for hospitalization from the flu. However, all children are at risk for missing school and/or parents missing work during the days in which a child would be ill with the flu. In addition, if a child obtains flu, the parents are at risk for getting the flu themselves, thus, missing more work.
Many people are under the misconception that the flu shot actually gives them the flu. The flu injection and intranasal flu can give runny nose and mild fever, however, these are just side effects of the vaccines, not the flu.
The intranasal flu vaccine can be given to children over the age of 2 who do not have chronic illnesses or recurrent wheezing. Its protection lasts one year, so it can be given earlier in the year than the flu injection. The injection can be given as early as 6 months of age. Its protection lasts 5-6 months. Both vaccines take about 2-4 weeks to begin protection. Therefore, it is best to be vaccinated in the fall in case of an early winter flu season.
Children who are under the age of 9 and have not received a flu vaccine before, must receive two vaccines 1 month apart to get full protection, so it is crucial to get these children in early during the flu season. Also, new this year, if your child is under age 9 and did not receive at least 1 dose of H1N1 vaccine last year, he/she must receive a second dose of vaccine this year.
All parents of children under 5 should receive a flu vaccine. It is especially important for those parents of infants who will be under 6 months of age prior to flu season, since these children cannot receive flu vaccines and are at high risk for being hospitalized if they were to catch the flu.
I encourage all parents to call their pediatrician and plan to get flu vaccinations for their children this year. It is easy to put it off until we start hearing about influenza cases in the news, but the time for prevention is now. Since it takes time for the flu vaccine to take effect, it is often too late once flu season has begun.