It's coming - the flu will be here before we know it. But
this season, federal health officials are urging flu vaccination
for all kids 6 months of age and older (instead of just the
Offering immunizations to millions more kids will, hopefully,
make this season less brutal than the last. More kids immunized
means fewer who might spread the virus to those most at risk for
serious complications, like babies, toddlers, and the elderly.
Although young tots (from 6 months to 5 years old) are still
considered the group of kids who need the flu vaccine the most, the
updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) recommend that all older kids and teens get it,
too. That is, as long as enough is available.
That's because the CDC's new recommendations say the
vaccine should be given to older children "beginning in the
2008-09 influenza season, if feasible, but no later than the
2009-10 influenza season." The goods news, though: The CDC is
projecting 146 million doses of the vaccine - the most ever made
available during a single season in the United States.
Getting kids of all ages vaccinated against the flu is even more
crucial now as federal health officials are reporting a dramatic
increase in the number of flu deaths linked to bacterial
infections. According to a new report by the CDC
five times more kids who died of the flu in 2006-2007 also had a
(or staph) infection than in the past three flu seasons. In
2004-2005, only 6% of the kids who died had a staph infection, too.
But the numbers skyrocketed to nearly 35% for the 2006-2007 season
- and 64% of those infections were due to the antibiotic-resistant
"superbug" MRSA (or methicillin-resistant
A specific strain of the common bacteria
, MRSA causes a type of "staph" infection that's been
cropping up among otherwise healthy people mostly as skin
infections, such as abscesses. Staph bacteria live on most
people's skin or in their noses without causing any problems.
But a staph infection can happen when the germ enters the body
through broken skin such as a cut, scrape, or rash. MRSA can
sometimes cause more serious infections, such as bone infections or
pneumonia. MRSA pneumonia is rare, but it's more of a risk for
kids already sick with the flu.
Flu deaths in kids are rare in the United States - 166 children
died from flu complications from 2004 to 2007 (the average age was
5). But the flu can become serious for any child, no matter how
well he or she was before getting sick. In fact, studies show that
most of the kids who died of the flu in the past few years were
perfectly healthy before they came down with the illness. And many
of the kids developed complications quickly - nearly half died
within just 3 days of getting sick. Yet the vast majority of the
kids who died and could've been vaccinated hadn't been.
Flu Vaccine FAQs
As the flu season starts to sneak up on us, parents often have a
ton of questions about the ins and outs of getting their kids
Here are some of the most frequent inquiries and concerns:
What's the big deal? Isn't the flu just a really bad
Although the common cold and the flu are often confused,
symptoms of the flu can be a lot worse. Granted, most healthy
people infected with the flu virus can weather the infection
without any problems. But the flu can cause serious sickness in
some, especially those considered high risk (like children under 2,
senior citizens 65 and older, and anyone with chronic conditions
such as asthma or diabetes).
In fact, each year, the highly contagious seasonal bug kills
36,000 people and sends another 200,000-plus (including more than
20,000 kids under age 5) to the hospital. Yet a mere 1 in 5 babies
and toddlers (who are especially at risk) receives the annual
vaccine, according to the CDC.
If your child has cold-like symptoms along with achiness, fever,
chills, and fatigue, don't be too quick to deem it just another
cold - it could be the flu or a bacterial infection (like strep
throat or pneumonia) that can
like the flu or a cold.
Why did so many people who'd gotten the flu vaccine last
season still get sick?
Many of the flu cases reported in the 2007-2008 flu season
weren't caused by the exact strains that last season's
vaccine targeted. Each year the vaccine is created to combat the
three most current strains of the virus - though other strains may
crop up at any time (which is what happened last season). Because
the vaccine provides protection from only a few of the strains that
can cause flu-like symptoms, it isn't a
against getting sick.
So if the flu vaccine isn't entirely effective why should
anyone get it?
Even though last season's vaccine didn't prove to fend
off the flu nearly as much as health officials had hoped, the flu
reduces the average person's chances of catching the flu. And
getting vaccinated can still help prevent complications
can make symptoms far more mild - and that's regardless of
whether or not you come down with a strain of the virus that
isn't part of this year's vaccine.
Does the flu vaccine contain thimerosal?
You've probably heard the controversy about the
mercury-containing preservative thimerosal, which was once widely
used in many childhood vaccines. Despite the lack of scientific
evidence that it causes any harm (specifically, autism),
manufacturers began removing thimerosal from kids' vaccines in
1999 to reduce childhood exposure to mercury and other heavy
Now, the flu vaccine is the only one used in kids 2 and under
of the preservative. Although some of the flu vaccines do have
thimerosal in them, most of those available for children have only
trace amounts and are technically considered thimerosal-free.
And study after study has found no scientific evidence that
autism is caused by any single vaccine, combination vaccines (like
the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine called MMR),
thimerosal itself. If you're still concerned, talk to your
doctor and ask if you can get a "thimerosal-free" or
"preservative-free (trace thimerosal)" vaccine for your
Do I need to get the flu vaccine, too?
To help fend off the flu in your entire household, it
wise for you - and anyone else taking care of your kids in or out
of the home - to get the flu vaccine, especially if you:
- are or will be pregnant during the flu season
- live or work with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers or
anyone else in any of the high-risk groups
- have a chronic medical condition
- work in the health care or assisted living fields and have
direct contact with patients
And if you're breastfeeding, no worries - you can still get
the flu vaccine, too.
Are there certain people who should not get the flu shot?
Those who should skip both the flu shot
the flu nasal spray include:
- infants under 6 months old
- anyone who's severely allergic to eggs and egg products.
Ingredients for flu shots are grown inside eggs, so tell your
doctor if your child is allergic to eggs or egg products before
getting the flu vaccine.
- anyone who's ever had a severe reaction to a flu
- anyone with Guillain-BarrÃ© syndrome (GBS), a rare medical
condition that affects the immune system and nerves
- anyone with a fever
What's the nasal flu spray?
For shot-shy tots - and parents - who are uneasy about the
thought of a needle, there's a pain-free flu immunization
option, too. The pain-free FluMist is now available for squeamish
kids and adults from 2 to 49 years old.
But FluMist isn't for everyone - it can't be used on
high-risk kids and adults (including the same groups listed above
pregnant women, anyone with wheezing or a chronic medical condition
like asthma, kids younger than 2 years, or adults older than
And, because the nasal spray flu vaccine is made from live
viruses, it may cause mild flu-like symptoms - including runny
nose, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, and fever.
What This Means to You
It's best to try to have your family vaccinated between
September and mid-November, before the flu officially rears its
ugly head. Getting the vaccine early on gives the body enough time
to build up immunity to, or protection from, flu viruses before
infection rates start to climb in the cold months (usually from
late December to early March).
Another reason to not wait until the season is in full swing: It
can take 1 to 2 weeks for the flu shot to become effective. Plus,
kids under 9 who get a flu shot for the first time will need to
receive it in two separate shots at least a month apart, so they
should, ideally, get the vaccine as soon as the immunization
At the beginning of the season, you can usually find the vaccine
at doctor's offices and public, employee, and university health
clinics, as well as through some universities, pharmacies,
hospitals, supermarkets, and community groups.
If you have an HMO insurance plan, check with your primary care
doctor before having your kids vaccinated outside the office. Most
HMOs will pay for vaccines only if they're given through their
plan. Flu shots are generally covered by insurance for people in
high-risk groups. Otherwise, they can cost anywhere from $10 to
$50. And if you opt for the FluMist, check to see if your insurance
plan covers it.
Whether you get the flu vaccine or not, these simple precautions
can help keep the pesky bug away from your household:
- Avoid large crowds whenever possible, especially if you have
a young infant or a child with a chronic condition.
- Make sure everyone washes their hands well - and often.
- Discourage young kids' nose-picking. And if they do let
their fingers venture upwards, make sure they wash their little
digits right afterward.
- Keep hand sanitizers around (but out of reach of little ones
since the alcohol in them can be dangerous to young kids if
pick up used tissues.
r share cups or eating utensils.
- Stay home from work or school if sick with the flu.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue -
your hands! - when you cough or sneeze. If you don't have a
tissue, cough or sneeze into the elbow or shoulder of your
Instead of waiting until your child's next checkup or sick
visit, call your doctor today to find out when the flu vaccination
is expected to come in and schedule an appointment.
And, by all means, encourage extended family members (especially
grandparents and anyone who regularly takes care of your kids) to
get the flu vaccine as soon as possible, to protect their health
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2008
Source: "Prevention and Control of Influenza
Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
), CDC, Aug. 8, 2008.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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