While winter is supposedly giving us a break this year when it comes to temperatures and snowfall, there’s no guarantee that flu season will be any easier than normal.
What makes the flu such a volatile health risk is that it changes a bit every season, with new strains taking hold. Even though you may have had influenza several years ago, you can always catch it again. The virus is highly contagious and affects the respiratory system, causing fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches and fatigue.
The flu will make anyone feel pretty miserable, but it’s especially hard on more vulnerable populations like the elderly and children. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention says that more than 20,000 children are hospitalized each year due to complications from the flu, and that 147 died last year from it.
The flu is preventable
Flu season is inherently unpredictable. Typically, it begins in late fall, peaks in January and February, and may last until late spring. If you haven’t already, make sure you and your child get the flu vaccine, which is the best way to avoid getting infected. The earlier you can get it, the better, since the vaccine generally takes about two weeks before it is fully effective.
Everyday habits like washing your hands and avoiding close contact with those who are sick are important as well. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to keep germs from spreading, and make sure to clean and disinfect surfaces and objects you touch.
Who should be vaccinated?
All individuals over 6 months of age — with rare exceptions — should be vaccinated. Unfortunately, the vaccine is not effective in infants younger than 6 months.
How is the vaccine given?
- Flu shot: The most common method of delivering the flu vaccine is a shot given with a needle, usually in the arm. Now there are even some brands of flu shots that are “egg” free for those with allergies.
Is the flu vaccine safe?
- The vaccine is safe and effective. Remember that it is always important to openly discuss any concerns about vaccines with your health care provider.
- Does the vaccine contain mercury? Most brands of flu vaccine do not contain any mercury. When it is present, it is in the form of thimerosal, a preservative used in multi-dose vials. Research has shown that thimerosal does not cause developmental conditions like autism.
- Can the vaccine give my child influenza? No. While there may be some side effects, including flulike symptoms — and it is possible for some people who get the vaccine to still come down with the flu — the vaccine itself does not result in influenza.
If you get the flu
If you or your child do come down with the flu, make sure to take any antiviral drugs prescribed by your doctor as instructed. This can make the difference between a milder illness versus a more serious one.
And, please, don’t try to tough it out and go to work or send your child to school if they are sick. Staying home will keep the virus from spreading.
For more information
If you have more questions about the flu vaccine, be sure to ask your doctor. You can also visit these websites:
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has primary care offices throughout southeast Wisconsin, including Mount Pleasant Pediatrics located in Mount Pleasant. Find a pediatrician near you.
Learn more about Joy Rynda, MD.