We’re truly living in remarkable times. Our world has changed dramatically in the past 100 years, and advancements in medicine and technology have not only exceeded our expectations, but also shifted our culture. In 1900, it was commonplace for children to die unexpectedly. In fact, 1 in 3 children died before their first birthday. The leading causes contributing to overall death at the time were pneumonia, influenza, tuberculosis and diarrhea-related illnesses, and 40 percent of these deaths occurred in the most vulnerable population – children.
Today, we often enjoy the luxury of forgetting what life was like for the average American just a relatively short time ago. Even though we’re more likely to worry about buckling our children in their car seats and childproofing our homes, accidents and preventable injuries are still a leading cause of pediatric death today. Similarly, there are also very real dangers we can avoid by remembering just how dangerous influenza can be for our children.
I’m not talking about pandemics like the Spanish flu, which claimed the lives of 20-50 million people in 1918. I’m referencing the annual flu, which comes around every fall and winter.
Last year, 177 children died across the nation from the flu. Yes, the common flu can spark fatal complications such as myocarditis (inflammation of the heart), encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), myositis and rhabdomyolysis (inflammation and breakdown of muscle tissue), renal failure and pneumonia, to name a few. However, these facts are easy to ignore when the risks to you and your family seem so small. After all, you’re probably fortunate enough to have never known a child to face this fate.
I want to share a story with you – a story that has driven me to vaccinate my own children against influenza each year.
I was in my second year of pediatric pulmonary training, and part of this training involved attending hospital patients with respiratory illnesses and similar complications. Our intensive care unit called us over to observe a 12-year-old boy who was bleeding from his lungs for an unknown reason. Because of this, he was placed on a ventilator and had a machine breathing for him. The boy’s mother and father were desperate for answers. How could this be happening to their previously healthy child?
We started asking questions about what was happening before he got sick. We asked about fever. We asked if anyone around him was sick. We asked about family history and medications. We also asked about vaccinations. “Of course he has received all of his vaccinations,” said the mother. We then asked specifically about the flu vaccine. She asked: “This could be the flu?”
In this moment, her world came crashing down around her. You could see it in her eyes. She could’ve prevented this from occurring with a vaccination, and she immediately began pondering the possibility. It was devastating.
The test results came back and confirmed the flu. Luckily, the boy ultimately did well and survived this episode. The recovery was not an easy one, requiring months of rehabilitation. Once he was able to walk, his parents were able to take him home.
I’ve read lots about the transmission of influenza, complications associated with the illness and its death rates. However, I learned more about the virus from this one family than I could learn through a lifetime of reading. Seeing the pain in that mother’s eyes will forever be the reason I give my children the flu vaccine. It’s the same reason I will always recommend for you to do the same for your children.
We’re quickly approaching another flu season, and the best line of defense for you and your children is to get your flu vaccines now. It’s definitely not too early for vaccination, and vulnerable populations (young children, pregnant women, people over 65) should do so as soon as possible.
- The best way to protect yourself from the flu is by getting a vaccination every year.
- Flu vaccines are available for you and your family at this time. Get them now, as it can take up to two weeks before your body develops protection.
- You can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine. Some people report a low-grade fever and muscle aches one to two days after vaccination, which is much less severe than the actual flu.
- You need the flu vaccine every year, as the virus changes year-to-year.
- Flu vaccines are safe. Extensive research has gone into their development and safety.
- Everyone over 6 months of age is recommended to get a flu vaccine.
For more flu-related blogs from last flu season, check these out:
- Flu symptoms? Where to go, and when
- Let’s talk about flu shots
- The breakdown on this year’s flu
- 10 common myths regarding the influenza (flu) vaccine
If you're ready to get your child's flu shot, you can find the nearest Texas Children’s Pediatrics location to you, here.