Health & Fitness

Doc Talk: Preparing for flu season

Now is the time to make sure everyone in your family over the age of 6 months is vaccinated before the flu season gets underway. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the single most important step in protecting against this deadly virus.

The flu is caused by an influenza virus that is highly contagious. It can cause high fever, chills, body aches, cough and a runny nose. In children, the flu may also cause vomiting and diarrhea. The flu can be associated with more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia, that can lead to hospitalization or even death.

Children are infected with influenza most often, and children younger than 2 years old are at higher risk of having complications.

Other people who may become sicker from the flu include pregnant women, elderly people, and people who have certain health conditions such as heart, kidney or lung disease; neuromuscular disorders; or those with a weakened immune system.

An annual vaccination is the most effective way to prevent influenza infection and its complications. The vaccination should be received as early as possible in the autumn to ensure protection before the flu outbreak in the community.

The body takes about two weeks after the vaccination to develop protective antibodies against the virus, so it is always a good idea to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available. Because antibodies decline over time and influenza strains change, it is important to get an updated vaccine each year.

Children younger than 6 months of age are too young to be vaccinated, so it is very important that their family members and caregivers be vaccinated.

Children between the ages of 6 months and 8 years who are receiving the flu vaccine for the first time need two doses of vaccine given four weeks apart in order to provide better protection. It is very important that pregnant women be vaccinated to protect both the mother and unborn child.

For children, there are two vaccination options. The first is the inactivated (killed) influenza vaccine commonly known as the “flu shot.” This can be given to anyone 6 months of age or older and should be given to children older than 6 months who have any pre-existing medical condition such as asthma, heart disease, neurologic disorders, or a weakened immune system.

The other option is the live, attenuated (weakened) influenza vaccine that is sprayed into the nostrils. This can be given to healthy individuals aged 2 through 49 years and is usually well-tolerated in children.

The vaccine does not cause influenza.

If you or your child is allergic to eggs, you should consult with your physician prior to receiving either of the flu vaccinations.

In addition to vaccination, you can take everyday precautions like washing your hands and staying away from sick people to reduce exposure to the virus. If you or your child is sick with the flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading influenza to others.

If you have any questions regarding the flu vaccine, I encourage you to talk to your physician or health-care provider.