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Arming Against the Flu

By Dr. Adam AronsonAdam Aronson, MD

It’s that time of year again – flu season is around the corner. Multiple strains…different vaccines… variable recommendations for various age groups – it can all be very confusing. This article will focus on the important information you need to protect yourself and your family from this potentially dangerous infection. Influenza (the flu) is a highly contagious respiratory infection that affects the Chicago area each year from December until April. There are many different strains of the flu, which are divided into 3 types – A, B, and C. Most flu outbreaks are caused by types A and B, and these are also associated with more severe illness. Common symptoms of the flu include fever, cough and congestion, headache, sore throat and generalized muscle aches and fatigue. While some people who catch the flu have mild symptoms that may last only a few days – the infection can also lead to pneumonia, seizures and death. In fact, data collected by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) finds that thousands of people die each year in the United States from the flu or complications related to the infection. Treatment for the flu mostly involves supportive care measures. Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen for relieve of fever and aches. Older children and adults can use over the counter cough/cold symptom medications. Rest and increasing fluid intake also are important. While antibiotics have no role in treating viral infections – there are antiviral medications which may be appropriate in very specific circumstances to be determined by the your physician. Kids getting Flu ShotThe most important and effective way to protect yourself and your loved ones is by getting everyone vaccinated. There are 2 basic types of flu vaccine: the inactive and the live, attenuated formulation. The one that people are most familiar with is the traditional “Flu shot” – the inactivated vaccine – meaning it contains no live influenza virus. The second preparation is the intranasal vaccine which is administered as a nasal spray (as opposed to the flu shots that are injected with a needle). This vaccine uses live, attenuated virus – meaning that it is weakened and can not cause actual flu illness. This is done by using cold-adapted viruses that are designed to be viable at the cooler temperatures in the nose – leaving them unable to infect the lungs or other warmer areas. The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children 6 months of age and older be vaccinated against the flu with few exceptions. A flu vaccine is needed every year because flu viruses are constantly changing. It’s not unusual for new flu viruses to appear each year. The flu vaccine is updated annually to keep up with the flu viruses as they change. Also, multiple studies have shown that the body’s immunity to influenza viruses (acquired either through natural infection or vaccination) declines over time The Flu shot (the inactivated injectable vaccine) is safe and effective for all children 6 months and older – with the only exception being children with severe allergy to eggs. The nasal spray is approved for use in children starting at age 2 years, unless they have a history of asthma. For asthmatic children of all ages, the inactivated flu vaccine is the safe and appropriate option. In most individuals, it takes about 2 weeks for the body to develop protection against the infection. Like any other medical treatment –there is a small chance of side effects with flu vaccination. After getting inactivated flu shots some children (5-10%) experience mild fever, achiness, fatigue, and headache. There symptoms are mild and typically last 1-2 days. By far the most common complaint is soreness or swelling at the site of the injection- which is reported in about 25-30% of patients. In people receiving the nasal spray flu vaccine – some report mild runny nose, congestion or cough, sore throat or headache. These symptoms are also mild and last 1-2 days. The similarity between some of the side effects just described and the symptoms seen in patients with influenza infection has led to the common misconception that flu vaccination leads to people getting the flu. This notion is false. The CDC has clearly established through scientific studies and data that flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. Influenza can be a very serious and dangerous infection and the most important step parents can take to protect themselves and their loved one is by getting vaccinated. Your Pediatrician can provide details and assist in deciding which type of vaccine is most appropriate and can answer your questions. Parents interested in additional information are encouraged to visit the CDC’s website www.cdc.gov/flu and the AAP’s website www.healthychildren.org