I recommend that all of my patients and their families get flu shots. It is important to get a flu shot every year because the specific strains of influenza that are in the vaccine change regularly. Influenza is a virus that evolves to keep itself strong, so we do our best to change the vaccine to provide the most protection possible.
The first time children under age nine get the flu vaccine, they will need two doses one month apart. Every season after that, however, they only need one. If you’re over nine years old, you only need one, even if you’ve never gotten it before. This is because older children and adults have stronger immune systems.
Myths about the flu vaccine:
- “I get the flu from the flu shot.”
This is impossible. The flu vaccine given through a needle is a dead virus, incapable of infecting a person. However, you can have some side effects from the vaccine, most commonly a sore arm or redness at the site. Some people do experience fatigue, muscle aches and headaches or a fever.
- “I’m healthy; I don’t need it.”
Even young, healthy people can get influenza and become seriously ill. For most people, it will be time off work or out of school (up to two weeks), but some people will end up hospitalized. Influenza can even cause death, even in someone who is otherwise healthy.
- “I don’t want to get it too early.”
The influenza vaccine is designed to provide protection for a full year, so there is no reason to wait. Once the vaccine is available in the fall, go ahead and get it. We never know when influenza will start to appear.
Of course, basic hygiene is always important! Teaching your children to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze with their arm, rather than their hands, helps prevent spreading germs around. And never forget the importance of frequently washing your hands or using sanitizer!
Symptoms can be somewhat mild and resemble the common cold, such as,
- sore throat
- runny nose
But some influenza symptoms can also include headaches, body or muscle aches and fatigue. Some of the influenza strains do cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea in children, but it is not a “stomach bug.”
Most of the treatment of influenza is supportive, meaning keeping your child (or yourself) comfortable with acetaminophen or ibuprofen and pushing fluids. However, if the illness is detected in the first 48 hours, there are antiviral medications that can be prescribed to help clear the virus faster. There are side effects from this medication and it is best to discuss with your doctor whether it is a good option for you. That same medication can also be taken by unaffected people to prevent them from coming down with influenza.