By Abby Haas, MD, Wake Forest Baptist Health Pediatrics – Clemmons

It’s that time of year again. No, I don’t mean fall, Halloween, or the buildup to the holidays. I’m referring to flu season, the period when the flu virus starts rearing its ugly head. The illness usually doesn’t peak until January or February, but we still see cases this time of year. We’ve also found that this is the ideal time to proactively combat the flu. Below are some important things to consider in approaching flu season:

The flu shot is the best protective measure for you and your children. Other habits, such as frequent handwashing and avoiding sick people are important, too, but getting vaccinated is usually the best prevention against the virus. Some parents are hesitant about the flu vaccine. As a mom, I’m empathetic to concerns parents have, so I encourage those who are worried about this or any health care issue to discuss it with their child’s pediatrician.

Get the flu shot as early as possible. It takes about two weeks for the body to build flu antibodies after receiving the shot. During that time you’re still vulnerable to getting the flu, so it’s best for you and your family to get the shot as early into flu season as possible. The antibodies do weaken over time, but getting a shot in the fall should provide a healthy child or adult with protection all the way through to spring. (Don’t forget that children receiving the flu shot in their first year will need to have a second one 30 days later.)

The side effects of the flu shot are minimal, and they won’t make you sick. Occasionally, an adult or child will experience temporary side effects from a flu shot. These can include migraine, fever, muscle aches and fatigue, and they’re a result of the body making antibodies for the flu. Because these are also symptoms of the flu virus, many parents worry that the flu vaccine is causing the flu. Rest assured that the flu shot is a killed virus, so there’s no way to get the flu from it. And any side effects from the shot are going to be shorter-lived and much milder than flu symptoms.

The nasal spray vaccine is recommended for children ages 2 to 8. This year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that children between the ages of 2 and 8 receive the nasal spray vaccine rather than the shot. This is because the spray tends to be more effective for this age group. Unlike the shot, the spray has a live attenuated virus. However, side effects for the spray remain similar to those of the shot. Children who shouldn’t receive the spray are those with contraindications such as allergy, asthma, aspirin treatment and a compromised immune system.

The flu shot doesn’t protect against the cold virus or Enterovirus D68. Thus far, we’ve had only a couple of Enterovirus D68 cases in Forsyth County. In case you’re not familiar, this is the dangerous respiratory virus that’s affecting children across the mid-western and southern United States. Fortunately, it hasn’t been much of a problem in our area so far, but you should be aware that the flu shot won’t prevent it. If your child starts experiencing severe respiratory symptoms, take him or her to the emergency department. Your child’s pediatrician can evaluate milder symptoms.

It’s important for parents and caregivers to also be protected. If you’re a parent or someone who spends a lot of time around children, it’s important that you receive a flu shot as well. This is for your protection and theirs. It’s especially important if you’re around an infant. Children under 6 months of age cannot receive the flu shot, so they’re more vulnerable. Pregnant women should also receive the flu vaccination as it can provide a layer of protection for the child after birth.

If you think you or child has the flu, seek treatment within the first 72 hours. Antiviral medications can shorten the duration of the flu, but they must be taken at the start of the virus. Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between a cold and the flu; the only way to know for sure is to be tested.

If your child needs a flu shot, or other preventive care, feel free to contact my office at (336) 716-WAKE (9253) to schedule an appointment.

Sponsored by Wake Forest Baptist Health