School has started again and along with it the usual coughs and colds and sore throats.  Even though it is only September, it is time to start thinking about the dreaded flu virus. Influenza seasons can be unpredictable and can vary from year to year, but may start as early as October. It takes about 2 weeks for the body to develop antibodies to the vaccine, so it should be obtained as soon as it becomes available.

1. What do you need to know as a parent?

The flu may start like the common cold with symptoms of cough, congestion and runny nose, but may also be associated with prolonged fever, muscle and body aches and fatigue. It is spread from person to person when an infected person, coughs, sneezes or talks and droplets are released into the air. It can also be spread less often from touching surfaces where drops are present. The flu virus is contagious from up to 1 day before the person presents with symptoms and up to 5-7 days after the symptoms resolve.

2. How can you protect yourself?

The best way to protect yourself is by getting the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available. Other means to protect yourself are effective hand washing and wiping down surfaces with anti-bacterial/viral cleansers.

There are multiple flu vaccines available but the two common types are the inactivated virus which comes in the injectable from and the live virus which is the nasal form. The determination of which vaccine is right for you will be made by your healthcare professional.  Most important to remember, you CANNOT get the flu from either vaccine. Minor side effects may include congestion and runny nose for 2-3 days.

3. Why get the flu vaccine?

Even healthy persons who have never had the flu in the past can get the flu and experience serious complications. Older people, young children, pregnant women and people with medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease are at especially high risk from the flu, but kids, teens and adults who are active and healthy also can get the flu and become very ill from it. In the United States each year, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications. Last year from September 30 to February 9th, 64 children died from flu-related complications.

4. Who should get the flu vaccine?

Everyone over the age of 6 months.

Higher risk populations include those between the ages of 6 months to 5 years, children with asthma or other chronic disease,  pregnant women, people with immune problems, and adults  more than 65 years old.

Children under the age of 8 MAY require 2 doses of the vaccine 4 weeks apart from each other depending on their previous immunization status.

5. How is this year’s flu vaccine different than last year’s?

Last year, the flu vaccine contained two common Type A strains called H1N1 and H3N2, and one strain of Type B. This year, a new quadrivalent form of the vaccine is available which includes the two Type A strains and 2 Type B strains.

Manufacturers anticipate producing between 135 million and 139 million doses of flu vaccine this year, but only about 30 million doses will offer the four-strain protection. All of the nasal live virus formulations will be the quadrivalent and a portion of the injectable form will be quadrivalent. The CDC and the AAP does not recommend one over the other, as long as you get vaccinated.

6. What happens if you get the flu?

See your health care professional as soon as possible because if it is treated with anti-viral medications in the first 48 hours, the duration as well as the severity of the illness can be decreased. The CDC does not recommend treatment of healthy individuals with anti-viral drugs, but certain high risk populations will benefit from treatment.

Lizy Varughese, M.D.,  joined Cook Childrens Physician Network in Lewisville in 2013. She is married to Dr. Shane Varughese and has two children, Noah and Sarah. Dr. Varughese enjoys photography, cooking, and church activities. Her passion in life is taking care of children and educating families on preventative care and battling childhood obesity.

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