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Let’s Clear the Air about Flu!!

Now that the temperatures have finally dropped below 70 F, we’re all thrilled it’s officially fall. But we also know what that means for our friendly neighborhood viruses: welcome Flu and RSV! Ugh! If you or your child hasn’t already been a victim to one of these in the past seasons, let me tell you- we all want to do everything we can to prevent these infections. Why, you ask? They’re viruses and don’t we let viruses normally “take their course” while drinking gallons of water and ingesting all the Tylenol/Ibuprofen we’re allowed to? That’s correct: both influenza and Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are viruses; however they are highly contagious and tend to cause more complications including secondary bacterial infections which can make your child very sick. The younger you are or more immunologically challenged your body is, the stronger they will hit you. Which brings us to today’s topic: what all we can do to PREVENT them from spreading.

Let’s focus our attention on Flu for now and we’ll give RSV it’s much deserved attention in another article.

Influenza is a highly contagious virus that becomes prevalent and spreads primarily from October through May.

Last year, 142 children died because of complications from the Flu. 80% of these children who passed away were not vaccinated.

There are 2 main ways the influenza virus can spread: contact and airborne route. To break it down: Let’s say Person “X” is infected with the flu. X can cough his virus infected particles on his hands and then shake your hand. Or he can cough on his hands and touch a book. If you touch the same book after this, you’ve been exposed to the flu. Or X can cough directly in the air and you breathe in the virus infected droplets into your respiratory tract.

It’s a well established fact that the Flu vaccine is one of the ways to prevent the flu. It is recommended for everyone of age 6 months and older. Last year’s vaccine were about 40-60% effective. The vaccines are constantly being updated to match the changing influenza strains. Hand washing with soap and wearing masks helps significantly in reducing the spread through contact and respiratory route.

Here are all the reasons for refusing the Flu vaccine that I’ve heard in the past year. Let’s dive right n and set the facts straight.

1. “My child gets sick every time after getting the flu shot.”

There are two kinds of flu vaccines: live and inactivated (killed). The shot is the inactivated vaccine- which means the flu virus particles have been killed and lost their disease causing capacity. The virus CANNOT replicate inside the body. So there is no way the flu shot can cause the flu infection.

The main side effects after pain and soreness at the injection site. Toddlers might get a fever for upto 48 hours though that is uncommon. 

2. “It’s just a cold”

Flu is NOT like a common cold. It comes on more abruptly, the fever is higher, and the muscle aches and headaches can be severe. In addition, the complications associated with the flu can be serious. Children can develop pneumonia, ear infections, seizures, and go into respiratory failure or sepsis.

If your child has asthma, chronic lung disease (common with premature kids) or a condition affecting the immune system, the flu symptoms and complications are expected to be more severe 

3. “My children got the flu vaccine last year and still got the flu a month later. So what’s the point?”

You’ve probably heard me say this several times before. You can still get the flu DESPITE getting the shot but not BECAUSE of the shot. It takes 2 weeks after getting the vaccine for the antibodies in your immune system to completely develop. If you’ve been exposed to the flu just before or within those 2 weeks, there are chances you’ll get infected. Secondly, the strains of the influenza virus are constantly changing and it’s possible you get infected with a strain that this year’s vaccine does not cover. However, the antibodies your body makes after getting the vaccines does provide some protection against all the different types of Flu viruses.

It has been proven that getting the getting the vaccine decreases the severity of the illness (regardless of the strain) and decreases the complications and hospitalization rates. 

4. “My child already got the flu this year. Should they still get the vaccine?”

Yes and yes.  There are several different types of Flu viruses. You can get Flu A one month and get Flu B the next month. The flu vaccine is made of 4 different Flu viruses. So even if you get one strain, getting the vaccine will help provide protection for the other types.

5. “I don’t know enough about the flu vaccine. I’m just not convinced”

Agreed, there’s a lot of information out there and this is a hot topic in the infectious disease world: there’s always new facts being discovered, previous recommendations changing and new guidelines being established. To make this worse, Dr. Google always has it’s own set of “facts” and stories ready for everyone to devour.

Do not hesitate to ask your Pediatrician any questions that you have about the vaccine. If after listening to, and understanding all the facts, numbers and real life stories, you’re still not convinced, that’s your informed decision and we respect that, but please please do not say NO without knowing what you’re refusing. This is your child’s health we’re talking about.

6. “Me and my kids have never gotten the flu shot and they’ve not really been sick with the flu ever.”

Chances are, that you’ve never gotten into a car accident but you have auto and health insurance. I like to use the same reasoning for the Vaccinations. The flu shot is a protective layer, similar to insurance. And just like your insurance cannot guarantee that you will never get into a car wreck, neither can the Flu shot. However, if you do- it’s reassuring to know that you have a reasonable amount of protection to get you up and running again! 

7. “I don’t believe in vaccinations Do we REALLY want to go there?”

“When you immunize your kid, you first and foremost protect them, you secondarily protect your family, and third, you protect those kids who can’t get the shot, those older people who won’t mount a great response to the vaccine and can get really sick when they’re exposed, and those babies who are too young to be immunized. “– Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson

Vasudha Mahajan, MD FAAP


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