The flu comes around every year, bringing the dreadful illness
to the masses - up to 20% of the population, in fact, according to
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But not
enough kids are getting the much-needed immunization, which can
help keep them out of the doctor's office or, worse, the
Although most healthy people infected with the flu virus can
weather the infection without problems, the flu can cause serious
sickness in some, especially those at high risk for complications.
Each year the highly contagious seasonal bug kills 36,000 people
and sends another 200,000 (including more than 20,000 kids under
age 5) to the hospital.
The flu vaccine reduces the average person's chances of
catching the flu by up to 80%. Yet a mere 1 in 5 babies and
toddlers (who are especially at risk) receives the annual vaccine,
says the CDC.
If only 50% of the kids in the United States were immunized
against the flu, it would mean 650,000 fewer doctor's office
visits and 2,250 fewer hospitalizations each year, according to a
study in the September issue of the journal
This Year's Plentiful Flu Vaccine Supply
Unlike some previous times of short supply, there's more
than enough flu vaccine to go around this year. In fact, the CDC
expects a record number of doses.
As in recent years, though, those in high-risk groups should get
first crack at the vaccine, ideally in October:
- kids 6 months to 5 years old (kids under 9 who get a flu shot
for the first time will receive it in two separate shots a month
- pregnant women
- any adult or child with a chronic medical condition (like
asthma or diabetes)
- anyone who lives or works with children under age 5
(especially with babies under 6 months old, who can't get the
For shot-shy tots - and parents - who are uneasy about the
thought of a needle, there's a pain-free flu immunization
option, too. Previously OK'd for 5- to 49-year-olds, the
pain-free FluMist is now available for the younger, often more
squeamish 2- to 5-year-old set as well.
But FluMist isn't for everyone - it can't be used on
high-risk kids and adults. And, unlike the flu shot (which is made
from killed influenza viruses), the nasal spray flu vaccine is made
from live viruses. That means it may cause mild flu-like symptoms,
including runny nose, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, and
What This Means to You
The flu season technically lasts from November until April, but
it's best to try to have your family vaccinated between
September and mid-November. You can still be immunized later, but
getting the vaccine early on gives the body a enough time to build
up immunity to, or protection from, the flu virus before infection
rates start to climb in the cold months.
But the vaccine can only help prevent infection - it can't
guarantee it. Why? The flu virus changes each year and the vaccine
prevents infection from only a few of the viruses that can cause
flu-like symptoms. Also, in some cases, the vaccine doesn't
give complete protection against the flu viruses targeted by the
vaccine. But even if someone who's gotten the vaccine gets the
flu, symptoms are usually fewer and milder.
Call your child's doctor before flu season kicks in to
schedule an appointment for a flu vaccination. Ask which one - the
shot or the mist - is best for your child. And make sure you get
vaccinated, too, especially if you're pregnant, have or work
with kids under age 5, or have children with a chronic medical
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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