Dear Dr. Johnson: My 3-year-old is healthy. Should I really vaccinate her against the flu?
Dear Reader: Whether we want to admit it or not, we are entering cold and flu season. Last week, I spoke a bit about cold viruses so it seems appropriate to address influenza this week.
Influenza season is October to mid-May, with a peak usually in January or February. So now is the time to begin taking steps to prevent you and your children from contracting the influenza virus.
Influenza is a respiratory illness with fever, chills, runny nose, cough, sore throat, decreased energy and body aches. These symptoms can last more than a week. The symptoms of influenza are often more severe and last longer than the common cold.
Children under age 2 years, adults over age 65, and those with chronic medical issues (especially lung issues) are most likely to suffer from the complications of influenza, which can include bacterial pneumonia, sinus infections, ear infections, dehydration and worsening of underlying health problems. While small children can have vomiting and diarrhea with influenza, when most people say they have the "stomach flu," they actually have an illness caused by a virus, not influenza.
One of the best ways to decrease your family's risk of contracting influenza is to have everyone vaccinated. There are two forms of the vaccine available: nasal mist and injection.
The injection is approved for age 6 months and up. The nasal vaccine is approved for ages 2 to 49 years old. There are some chronic health conditions for which the nasal vaccine is not recommended. Individuals with egg allergy can receive the flu vaccine. However, if it is a severe egg allergy (more than hives), it is best to discuss with your allergist before receiving the flu vaccination.
While infants under age 6 months cannot receive the flu vaccine, I recommend all their household members and close contacts do so. This limits the risk of the infant coming into contact with someone with influenza. Some children age 8 years and under will require two vaccinations a month a part. Your child's doctor can help you determine if your child needs one or two doses this year.
Some people worry that the influenza vaccine will give them the flu. While it is true that you may feel muscle soreness where the shot is given, as well as headache and fever (more common for children under age 2), you cannot get the flu from the vaccine. These symptoms are effects of the vaccine going into the muscle and your body developing an immune response to the vaccine.
The nose spray can cause a runny nose. It takes about two weeks for antibodies to the flu to develop so it is possible to contract influenza during this time.
Most clinics and some pharmacies now have a good supply of flu vaccines, so it is a good time to get you and your family protected. You can find more information about influenza, the vaccination and other ways to keep your family healthy at flu.gov.
This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Johnson to people submitting questions.