By Angela M. Morris, MD, FAAFP, Wake Forest Baptist Health, Family Medicine – Lewisville

As a family doctor and mother of four children, I’m asked a lot of questions about the flu this time of year. Since flu season is starting to peak, it’s a good time to go over some of the basic details about the illness. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions I get:

How effective is the flu shot at protecting my family from the flu? The flu shot is the best way to keep your children and yourself from contracting the flu. It is especially important for children, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, those with chronic medical conditions and those with asthma to receive a vaccination. However, anyone who is a household member or caregiver for someone in these high-risk groups should also get the shot.

The flu can be hard to prevent by other means because people with the flu are contagious for 24 hours BEFORE they show symptoms, and up to five to seven days afterward. Just avoiding obviously sick persons is not enough to protect your family.

Is my child too young to receive a flu shot? Any child over 6 months of age can be vaccinated. Since infants under 6 months can’t be vaccinated, they are depending on those who come in contact with them to be vaccinated.

Is it too late for us to get flu shots this year? The flu vaccine is not effective immediately (it typically takes about two weeks for the body to form antibodies to the flu), so you need to be sure your family is vaccinated early in the season for the best protection. However, it is never too late, so go ahead and get it now if you haven’t yet.

Does the flu shot contain thimerosal?
Research does not support the idea that thimerosal-containing vaccines are dangerous. However, parents who are concerned about the substance should know that, since 2001, flu vaccines licensed for use in children under age 6 do not contain thimerosal.

Will the flu shot make us sick? People worry that they might “catch” flu from the vaccine. This is not medically possible. However, we give the vaccines during cold season, so you can certainly get sick from a cold after receiving the vaccine. Of course you can still get the flu within the two week period before the vaccine is effective.

Are there any other ways to prevent the flu? After the flu shot, the best ways to prevent flu are for you and your family to frequently wash your hands, limit contact with sick people, use tissues when sneezing, cover mouths when coughing, and disinfect surfaces that may have been touched by someone who is sick.

Does my child have a cold or the flu? Often, people mistake a severe cold virus for the flu. A cold, like the flu, can occasionally cause fever, chills and fatigue. The difference is usually in the length and severity of the symptoms. The flu almost always lasts longer and produces more severe symptoms. Another good guideline is whether you’ve had your flu shot or not. If you have received it, chances are the illness you have now is just a cold.

What can we do to reduce the length or symptoms of the flu?
If you think you or your child may have the flu, with symptoms such as fever, cough, fatigue and body aches, seek care as soon as possible. While there are medications available to treat the flu, they must be given early in the course of the illness to be effective. They are not a cure, but can shorten the length of illness and lessen its severity. Beyond that, recommended treatment includes lots of rest and fluids.

Can you prescribe us antibiotics for the flu?
The flu is a viral illness; therefore antibiotics are useless in treating it. And taking antibiotics when you don’t need them can increase your antibiotic resistance. So if you or your child have the flu, you shouldn’t expect to be prescribed antibiotics. There are, however, certain antiviral medications, like Tamiflu®, that can reduce the length and severity of the flu if taken soon after symptoms begin.

Do you have a question about the flu that wasn’t addressed in this post? If so, feel free to ask in the comments or call my office at 336- 716-WAKE (9253). And don’t forget there’s still time to get your flu shot this year. Contact Wake Forest Baptist Health Family Medicine – Lewisville to make an appointment for a vaccination or to establish a family doctor.

*Sponsored by Wake Forest Baptist Health Family Medicine – Lewisville