The arrival of flu vaccines to our office is the final signal that summer has officially ended. Kids are back to school (and are happily sharing their germs) and all the after school and weekend extracurricular activities mean our schedules are full. Along with apple picking, pumpkin spice lattes and Halloween costumes, autumn is also flu vaccination season.
Of course, many people use the term “the flu” to mean different kinds of illnesses. Some people are referring to the “stomach flu” which causes vomiting and diarrhea, and others use the term to talk about the common cold with symptoms such as nasal congestion and runny noses. And then there is the less well known and under-diagnosed “man-flu”, where any minor cold or virus causes seemingly exaggerated symptoms when experienced by grown men.
However, the “real flu” caused by the influenza virus is different from these conditions and is no joking matter. This virus causes high fever, severe headache and sore throat, body ache, runny nose, congestion and cough. You are usually ill for a week and even after symptoms subside it can take days to regain your strength and energy.
In addition, children less than five years old are considered a high risk category for developing complications from influenza. These potential complications include:
- Ear infections
- Sinus infections
- Bronchiolitis (infection in the lower airways causing cough and wheezing)
Any of these conditions (or worse a combination of them) can cause your child to become severely ill. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year 20,000 children are hospitalized for flu-related complications.
And tragically, each year people die of complications from the flu. In the 2013 flu season, the CDC reported over 100 of such pediatric deaths and 90% of these children had not received a flu vaccine.
Clearly, this is an illness that you should do everything you can to avoid experiencing, and avoid spreading within your family and community. The flu virus is transferred by respiratory droplets, so all it takes is one sneeze or cough and the virus is airborne. It can land on another person or on an object and then infect someone else when they touch that object and then their face. Just imagine how easily this virus is spread at school, the workplace or home.
While you could take your family to a deserted tropical island every winter to avoid the flu, it’s probably easier to get the influenza vaccine every autumn. There are two forms of this vaccine – the inactivated (killed) virus injection (shot) and the attenuated (live) virus flumist (nasal spray). The shot is approved for infants six months old and up, and the nasal spray is indicated for healthy children at least two years old up to adults less than 50 years old. The flumist is recommended preferentially for those two to eight years old because if has been shown to give better protection than the shot in this age group. This group of children also appreciates not getting a shot!
These vaccines protect against three or four strains of the influenza virus depending on the specific vaccine you receive. Unfortunately, these vaccines do not protect against all strains of the influenza virus, but clearly some protection is better than none. Also, if you are unlucky enough to still contract the virus, it is more likely to be a less severe illness if you have had your flu immunization.
So please take my advice, organize your Halloween costumes now, enjoy the pumpkin spice lattes while you can and bring your child for a flu vaccination before the flu season hits. And while you’re at it go ahead and arrange to get one for yourself as well. As more people receive the vaccine, the less likely everyone is to get the flu, and nobody wants to miss a week of school or work for this miserable illness.
Written by: Dr. Rachel Elwell