There’s nothing better than spending quality time together as a family, whether it’s going for a walk, eating dinner together or just hanging out at home. What’s NOT fun is when the whole family is sick. One way to prevent that is to be sure kids and adults get the flu vaccine each year.
Influenza (or “flu”) is a respiratory illness that causes fever, chills, cough, sore throat, congestion, body aches and fatigue. In short, it’s miserable. The flu virus changes each season, so even though you may have had the flu in the past – and been vaccinated – you can get it again.
Preventing the flu
While proper hygiene such as hand washing is important to prevent the spread of illness, the very best defense against the flu is an annual flu vaccine. The flu can make anyone feel awful, but it’s especially hard on kids. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says thousands of children are hospitalized each year due to complications from the flu, and some even die from it.
The good news is, the flu vaccine is highly effective. A 2014 study showed that the flu vaccine reduced the chances of kids being admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit by 74 percent during previous flu seasons.
It’s important to get the vaccine every year, since each season’s flu strains are different from the previous year. The vaccine will help protect you for the entire flu season, which typically begins in late fall, peaks in winter and can last until late spring. The sooner you get the flu vaccine, the better.
Why the whole family should get the vaccine
Everyone in the family (with the exception of infants less than 6 months of age) should get the flu vaccine — kids, parents and grandparents. It’s also important for pregnant women to get the vaccine to protect themselves and their babies.
The flu is highly contagious. When everyone in the family is protected it, the chances of the illness spreading within the household decrease. That means fewer days of missed school, work and play — and more time to spend as a family.
Is the flu vaccine safe?
The flu vaccine has been studied extensively, and it’s safe and recommended for nearly everyone over 6 months of age. Contrary to the popular misconception, the vaccine will not give you the flu. While there may be some side effects, including soreness at the site of injection and mild flu-like symptoms, the vaccine does not cause the flu.
The potential side effects are much less severe than a potential case of the flu. Since the flu varies greatly from year to year, it’s hard to predict when the next severe strain will appear, making it important to protect yourself every year.
Most brands of flu vaccine do not contain mercury. When mercury is present, it’s in the form of thimerisol, a preservative. Extensive research has proven thimerisol does not cause developmental conditions like autism.
What about FluMist?
Although shots aren’t fun, getting the flu shot is the only way to get the vaccine this flu season. The CDC recommends against the nasal flu vaccine (FluMist) because it hasn’t been effective in the past. The flu mist won’t help protect against the flu strains predicted for this year, so only flu shots will be available.
Talk with your doctor
The Affordable Care Act requires that flu and other vaccines be covered by health insurance without a copayment or coinsurance, but be sure to check with your insurance company to find out if you have to get the flu shot from a specific doctor or location. If you have questions about the flu vaccine, talk to your doctor.
Take the time now to get your family’s flu vaccines, and look forward to healthy family time together this fall and winter.
Pediatricians from Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin care for children at primary care offices throughout southeast Wisconsin, including North Shore Pediatrics in Mequon. Find a pediatrician near you.
Learn more about David Meuler, MD.