By Tanya Remer Altmann, MD, FAAP
Break out the tissues – it’s flu season! Day care facilities and classrooms will soon be filled with sick children performing the music of cough cough, sneeze sneeze, achoo!
So how do you keep your children safe from the common cold and flu this winter?
For the common cold, there’s no magic pill. The best prevention is simply frequent hand washing along with plenty of sleep, exercise and a healthy diet.
To avoid the flu, there’s a less time-consuming but very effective answer: the flu vaccine.
Flu shots are recommended for everyone over 6 months of age. Other than a sore arm, side effects are rare. And contrary to popular belief, you can’t catch the flu from the flu shot. Scared of needles or looking for an alternative to the traditional flu shot? The nasal spray flu vaccine is another option for healthy children over 2 years of age. If this is the first year receiving the flu vaccine, and your child is under age 9, he will need two doses one month apart. One bit of good news: the flu vaccine can be given at the same time as other childhood immunizations, so it won’t put your little one behind schedule.
Although the vaccine is updated each year – to combat the influenza virus that changes so often – it is not a cure-all. Unfortunately, the vaccine won’t prevent the sniffles that arrive from the other viral infections. Last year the regular flu vaccine didn’t protect against the H1N1 flu virus that spread like wildfire throughout the community. Luckily, a vaccine against the H1N1 flu virus did become available and helped protect thousands against the H1N1 flu. This year ONE flu vaccine will protect against all anticipated flu strains, including the H1N1 flu virus.
OK. So you don’t think getting the vaccine is worth the time, then get set for trouble. If you are otherwise healthy, the flu is probably the worst you will ever feel. The flu can cause fever, cough, sore throat, headache, chills and muscle aches. Most victims are sick for a few days to a week, but some people get much sicker and may even need to be hospitalized. Believe it or not, the flu still causes thousands of deaths each year.
So get your flu vaccine soon to protect yourself and your family this winter. Remember, the best way to prevent cough, sniffles, and colds in your home this winter is to make sure the whole family gets flu vaccines, washes their hands, eats healthy, exercises, gets plenty of sleep and gets regular check-ups. And make sure to see your pediatrician if you have questions! With a flu vaccine and some good living, your home can be filled with pleasant holiday music rather than the sounds of cough cough, achoo!