Flu Prevention Is Nothing To Sneeze At

January 20, 2011

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Your child may not yet be surrounded by coughs, sneezes and sniffles of other children, but rest assured that flu season is here. Even in the hospital we're happy to report that we're not seeing a large amount of flu cases yet, but I want to remind parents that flu season peaks in February here, so if you haven't already done so, now is the best time to get yourself and your child vaccinated.

In a recent essay I wrote for the Houston Chronicle, "There's still time for children to receive flu vaccine," I recalled last season's devastating H1N1 flu pandemic that left many previously healthy children suffering through extreme fever and difficulty breathing. Over the many years that I've been a doctor at Texas Children's Hospital it continues to sadden me when I see children placed on respirators and literally fight for their lives due to flu-related complications.

This year, for the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older receive flu vaccine.

There are two flu vaccines available depending on your child's age and medical history:

  • Flu shot — recommended for everyone 6 months and older, including pregnant women
  • Nasal-spray flu vaccine — recommended for healthy people ages 2 - 49 who are not pregnant and for children who do not have a history of wheezing, asthma, severe allergies or chronic health conditions

Both of these vaccines are safe for the recommended populations and protect against the 3 flu viruses that are circulating in the United States: H1N1 pandemic flu, H3N2 and B seasonal influenza. The vaccines require 14 days to work with your child's immune system to mount protection.

Even without more severe complications, flu can cause healthy children to suffer with high fever, poor appetite, listlessness, headache and muscle pain for 5 - 7 days, and the fatigue continues for another week. More serious complications include pneumonia, high fever, seizures and, in rare instances, death.

Recent news reports have pointed out that misinformation about vaccines has been widely circulated, causing unwarranted concern among families. That's why I urge parents to seek out the credible, medical facts about flu vaccines from your child's pediatrician, and, if you haven't already, please take your child to get his or her flu vaccine. As someone with a lifetime of study, I can tell you that vaccines are the best way to protect children from infectious diseases like the flu.

Flu vaccine is available at area pediatrician offices, retail outlets and health clinics. Families looking for free or low-cost vaccine can contact the Texas Children's Immunization Helpline at (832) 824-2061. For more information about vaccines, or if you have specific questions and concerns, visit our vaccine web site at www.vaccines.texaschildrens.org.

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