Last year was the worst flu season in four decades. But do kids need flu shots? Vanessa Slots, MD, of Renown Medical Group – Pediatrics, explains why getting a flu shot each season can save lives. And this is especially true for the very young and elderly.
The 2017-2018 flu season was record-breaking — in the worst way possible:
- According to the CDC, an estimated 900,000-plus were hospitalized due to flu during the 2017-18 flu season. Of those, almost 80,000 died.
- Studies show that flu deaths in last flu season were nearly 10,000 higher than the estimated number who died from drug overdoses.
- Further evidence reveals that flu deaths in 17-18 were almost double the number of those estimated to have died in motor vehicle crashes.
You have questions about these starting statistics, and we have answers. For general questions about flu vaccination, contact your primary care physician or visit an upcoming Renown community flu shot event.
Why Kids Need Flu Shots
The flu is not a passing cold. It is a serious illness that takes lives every year. Last flu season, at least 180 children’s lives were claimed by the flu.
And it happens like clockwork — the onset of an influenza epidemic as fall transitions into winter, and lasts into the spring months. This acute respiratory illness is caused by influenza A or B viruses with yearly outbreaks occurring worldwide. No one is immune, and everyone is susceptible to the flu.
Flu signs and symptoms:
- Abrupt onset of fever
- Body aches and fatigue along with respiratory-tract symptoms including cough
- Sore throat and an irritated nose
Who’s at Risk?
Once again: Everyone is susceptible, but children and the elderly are at greater risk of complication from influenza, specifically toddlers less than 2 years. At this age, immunities are underdeveloped. Seniors over 65 are also at increased risk because their immune systems have weakened with age.
The severity of a child’s symptoms depend on age and prior exposure to the virus. And with young children, flu is more problematic, since they cannot verbalize certain symptoms like body aches and headaches. As a result, children often experience higher fevers, which can lead to seizures or convulsions. Coupled with gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and poor appetite, children are at risk of dehydration and other complications from the virus that can require hospitalization. In fact, an average of 20,000 children are hospitalized from flu each year.
Pre-Existing Health Issues
Health conditions, including but not limited to asthma, cystic fibrosis, heart conditions, cerebral palsy, epilepsy or diabetes, can intensify flu symptoms. Still, a substantial number of children with none of these risk factors experience severe complications from the flu.
How to Protect Your Child from the Flu
The best way to guard against influenza is with a flu shot. Children and adults should get the flu vaccine before flu season kicks in — usually by the end of October. Shots are provided as long as flu viruses are circulating and the vaccine is in supply.
What Is The Proper Dosage?
Children 6 months to 8 years require two doses of influenza vaccine during their first vaccination season to optimize their immune response. Each subsequent year, children require only a single standard dose.
Like any vaccine, the influenza vaccine does not guarantee 100 percent coverage. However, if someone receives the vaccine and still develops influenza, symptoms tend to be less severe and don’t last as long.
How To Lower The Flu Risk
Play it smart. Even if your children are healthy, robust and rarely get sick, they are still vulnerable to the flu and a shot is absolutely necessary. Immunization is the single most effective way to prevent the flu. You can further minimize risk by teaching your children to wash their hands often with soap and water, cover coughs and sneezes, and avoid those who might be sick.
If your child does develop the flu, symptoms can last seven to 10 days and are contagious until your child is fever-free for 24 hours. However, antiviral medications taken within the first 48 hours of developing symptoms can shorten the duration of the illness by one to two days and even mitigate symptoms. Only serious complications, such as dehydration, require hospitalization.
When it comes to getting over influenza, rest and hydration are just as important as medication. So if your child comes down with uncomplicated flu symptoms, consult your healthcare provider. But some time off from school, a Netflix marathon and a pile of good books and a never-ending supply of fluids may be just what the doctor ordered.