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Flu Season and What You Need to Know

Welcome back to the pediatric blog! With cold and flu season upon us I thought this week would be a good time to discuss what the flu is and the importance of getting the flu shot. While this is a pediatric blog I do have to put in here that adult, especially you parents with children less than 6 months of age, and the elderly need flu shots as well. Flu-related deaths in the adult population are not just 60 and up, there are many flu-related deaths that occur in otherwise normal healthy young to middle aged adults each year. Each year on average, 5%-20% of the U.S population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from complications. Of that number about 20,000 children under 5 years old are hospitalized from flu-related complications. During last year’s flu season (2016-2017) there were at least 101 children deaths from the flu.

So, what exactly is the FLU?

The most important thing to start with and to remember is that influenza (flu) is a VIRUS, which means antibiotics are ineffective in treating it. Antibiotics only treat bacteria and fungus etc., but they do not treat viruses. The flu virus is common, widespread, and unpredictable, but it can cause serious complications and even death in healthy children. The term unpredictable is of importance to note because there is no way to know what flu strains (as there are so many) will cause symptoms and problems for any given season. Flu shots are manufactured long before flu season starts in order to get us vaccinated and build immunity, but it is always a guess as to which strains the vaccine will be made to cover. Due to this guessing, we know from research that flu vaccines are only about 60% effective, yes we all wish that this number was higher. This is why you may hear in the news of flu outbreaks despite many getting vaccinated with their flu shot. This is not meant to discourage you from vaccinating yourself or your children as research has also shown that if you contract the flu and have had your vaccine, the duration or symptoms and severity are milder.

Important statement!

Before we continue, let’s go ahead and get this statement out before we proceed any further: You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine. Here is why; the flu vaccines are made from inactivated (or killed) flu virus strains. The mild symptoms that are felt after receiving the vaccine are your body’s normal immune response to the inactivated virus. It is this response that helps build your immunity to the flu strains in that vaccine and for the body to recognize future flu viruses. This is why people report mild symptoms after getting the shot such as nausea, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, and chills, all of which is normal. Sometimes fever is seen within 24 hours after immunization in 10%-35% of children younger than 2 years old age but rarely is it seen in older children and adults. Lastly, a large amount of research continues to show that the influenza vaccine is safe and is NOT associated with autism.

Who should be vaccinated?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual influenza immunizations for all people ages 6 months and older, including children and adolescents. In addition, household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children with high-risk conditions and all children under the age of 5 especially should be vaccinated. It is very important that parents, sibling and any caregivers of children less than 6 months of age be vaccinated as newborns and infants up to 6 months cannot receive the flu vaccine but are still able to contract the flu.

What are the flu symptoms?

Fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches, chills, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. It is important to note that some people sick with the flu may not have a fever.

What is a flu complication?

Most people who get the flu will recover in a few days to less than 2 weeks, but some people will develop complications because of the flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death. Pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections are examples of complications from the flu. The flu can also make chronic health conditions worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu. Children younger than five, but especially children younger than 2 years of age, and children/adolescents with chronic health conditions are at greatest risk for serious flu complications.

How do I know if my child is at greatest risk for flu-related complications?

Any child can develop a complication from the flu, even normal healthy children, but those known to be more at risk have the following conditions:

  • Asthma
  • Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions including disorders of the brain, spinal cord; peripheral nerve; and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, stroke, moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury.
  • Chronic lung disease (such as cystic fibrosis or chronic lung disease of prematurity)
  • Heart disease (congenital heart defect or congestive heart failure)
  • Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
  • Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes)
  • Liver disorders
  • Kidney disorders
  • Morbid obesity
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as children/adolescents with HIV/IDS, cancer, bone marrow or solid organ transplant, or those on chronic steroids or other immunosuppressive therapy).
  • Pregnancy

Other facts:

  • The flu vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines
  • Children with egg allergy can get the flu vaccine
  • This year’s flu shot is only available as a shot
  • Intranasal influenza vaccine is not recommended in any setting in the U.S.
  • It can take up to two weeks to build immunity against the flu
  • There is a trivalent vaccine (covers 3 strains of flu) and a quadrivalent vaccine ( covers 4 strains of the flu) available.
  • Does your child need two doses? Children 6 months through 8 years getting vaccinated for the first time, and those who have only previously gotten one dose of vaccine, should get two doses of vaccine this season. All children who have previously gotten two doses of vaccine (at any time) only need one dose of vaccine this season.

When and where should I get my flu shot?

Now is the time to get your flu shot! We have already been seeing positive flu tests in our offices. Remember it takes up to two weeks for the vaccines to take effect so walk in today. Stop by any of our Avance Care locations to receive your flu shot. No appointment is necessary. Bring the whole family! Remember that the Morrisville location now has pediatricians on staff and are happy to see new and existing pediatric patients from birth to 18 years of age.

Lastly, below I have attached two links to some fun activities and coloring pages for the kids so they can learn about flu. So check them out!

http://www.nfid.org/idinfo/influenza/flu-coloring-book.pdf

https://www.cdc.gov/phpr/readywrigley/documents/ready_wrigley_flu.pdf

References

10 Things for Parents to Know About the 2017-2018 Flu Vaccine. (2017). Retrieved October 8, 2017 from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/immunizations/Pages/Prepare-Your-Family-for-Flu-Season.aspx

A Guide for Parents of Children or Adolescents with Chronic Health Conditions. (2017). Retrieved October 8, 2017 from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/chronic/Pages/Flu-A-Guide-for-Parents-of-Children-or-Adolescents-With-Chronic-Health-Conditions.aspx

Flu Facts. (2017). Retrieved October 8, 2017 from http://www.preventchildhoodinfluenza.org/flu-facts

Written By: Christopher Elkins, CPNP

Practitioner Elkins was born and raised in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He is a board certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner by the PNCB (Pediatric Nursing Certification Board). He sees patients from birth to 21 years of age Christopher and his wife Erin have an 8-year-old son, Everett and are expecting another baby boy in October 2017. Christopher and his family enjoy traveling to the mountains of North Carolina in the fall; enjoy the beaches during the summer, and concert-going all year round.

Categories: Healthy Living
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