The flu and your kids
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The statistics are scary. Each year in the United States, more than 20,000 children younger than five years old are hospitalized due to complications from influenza, or the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But a watchful eye and a few preventive measures can go a long way to protecting young children.
"The flu is a serious disease. It can cause serious complications and even death in young children," says Henry Ford pediatrician Jacqueline P. Moore, M.D., MBA. "During flu season, parents need to pay careful attention to symptoms, especially if your child is younger than six months. Babies are very susceptible to the flu and more likely to develop complications."
Children younger than six months are too young to get a flu vaccine. Because of this, safeguarding them from the flu is especially important. Dr. Moore says one of the best ways parents can do that is by getting vaccinated themselves, so they are less likely to infect their child.
"All contacts – mom, dad, grandparents, siblings, anyone over six months – should be vaccinated," Dr. Moore adds. "This helps protect the infant. No one will be shedding the flu virus and putting the child at risk."
Complications from influenza include pneumonia, dehydration, ear infections and even inflammation of the brain. A case of the flu can worsen medical problems such as asthma or heart disease.
"Influenza strains constantly change at the same time that immunity from a previous flu shot decreases," Dr. Moore said. "You need a flu vaccine every year because every year different strains of the flu circulate, so, every year, the vaccine is updated."
Children from six months to eight years old require two doses of flu vaccine the first time they get vaccinated so that the full amount of antibodies develops and they are protected. Your child's health care provider can tell you whether your child needs two doses of the flu vaccine. If your child does need two doses of vaccine, it is best to begin the vaccination process as soon as possible. According to the CDC, the second dose needs to be given at least 28 days after the first dose.
Dr. Moore noted that this flu season, it is recommended that everyone six months and older get an annual vaccination with either the nasal-spray version of the vaccine (flu mist) or the shot. Both methods of receiving the vaccine have been shown to be effective in children and adults. However, Moore says that if FluMist is unavailable, the flu shot should be given to young children, rather than waiting for FluMist to become available.
Parents and caregivers need to monitor children closely during flu season. If your child develops a fever, cough or difficulty breathing, or is less responsive than normal, contact your child's doctor.
Dr. Moore adds that an ominous sign is recurrence of fever or symptoms in a child who is recovering from a case of the flu. "Those children must be seen by a doctor right away," Dr. Moore said.
Dr. Jacqueline P. Moore, M.D., MBA, is a board-certified pediatrician. She attended medical school at Harvard University and practices at Henry Ford Medical Center – Southfield.
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