Flu season typically begins in October and lasts through May. To help everyone prepare for this year’s flu season, Sanford Health News found the 10 most commonly searched questions on Google related to kids and the flu.
For expertise, we turned to Joseph Segeleon, M.D., chief medical officer for Sanford Children’s Hospital and physician specializing in pediatric critical care.
1. How do I know if my child is at risk and should be given a flu shot?
Children over 6 months old should get a flu shot, according to Dr. Segeleon.
“All kids are in at risk of getting the flu,” Dr. Segeleon said. “There is a subpopulation of children who are more at risk for having serious consequences. If they do get influenza, those would be the very young, premature infants, children under 2 years old and those with chronic medical conditions.”
He says children with medical complexities, at risk for more serious illness, include those with underlying lung problems, heart problems including congenital heart disease, immunodeficiencies and children with neurologic problems, for example, seizure disorders or cerebral palsy.
2. Do I keep my kid inside if not given a flu shot?
“Don’t keep your child inside. Instead, opt for a flu shot,” Dr. Segeleon said.
“I think being outside is incredibly important. It’s great to get fresh air. It’s great to get exercise and the socialization that you get outside, especially in today’s world, right? You don’t have to keep your child inside. I think there is a degree of comfort and safety in getting vaccinated and getting a flu shot.”
3. How do I know if a child has the flu?
Most cases show a very sudden onset, he said.
“So you are well and then you’re fairly significantly unwell,” Dr. Segeleon said. “Most kids with the flu don’t have these slowly developing illnesses … but with the flu, you generally see fever, cough and congestion. You can have myalgias or muscle aches and you can get a headache, as well.”
4. Is the flu shot just for kids?
The flu shot is for anybody over 6 months old.
“There are tremendous benefits to the flu shot,” he said. “Not only does it help the individual who is getting the shot, obviously, but the more people we get vaccinated, the less flu we are likely to have.”
He says it affects both the people who have not chosen to get the flu shot and then even those people who may still get the flu, but a less severe case.
“The more we have immunity, the better it is for everyone.”
5. How much protection does a flu shot provide for my child?
This is a question Dr. Segeleon gets often and advises parents not to get fixated on any single number.
“It’s true, no flu shot is 100% protective. It’s usually in that 30-50% or 30-60% range. But you have to understand, each flu shot contains a number of different strains and a number of different viruses. So, it may be 30% to one virus, but it may be 50% to another virus.
“The other thing that we know is if you get flu shots from year to year, it probably conveys some resistance to even the strains you’ve not really been immunized against, but are similar to the way the viruses look.”
6. Where do you get flu shots for kids?
There are many places you can get the flu shot for your child, Dr. Segeleon said. Start by considering their age.
“My primary recommendation would be get your flu vaccine through your primary care provider,” he said. “Go to your pediatrician or family practice physician and get your flu shot there. They are more than happy to accommodate you in getting your flu shot.
“Some of the schools will also have ‘flu blitzes,’ if you will. You can get them at retail stores, as well, but that’s usually for an older child who developmentally can go get a shot without being intimidated or fearful in that environment.
“Understand that primary care clinics are accustomed to dealing with young children. They have individuals who have expertise in dealing with children so that would be my number one recommendation.”
7. Is my child old enough for the flu shot?
You can start getting a flu shot after 6 months old. The first season a child, under the age of 9 years old, gets a flu shot, they need two shots that are four weeks apart. After that, it is one flu shot per season.
8. How many shots per year?
“The first season that you get vaccinated for influenza, it’s two shots that are four weeks apart. Thereafter, it’s one shot per season.”
9. Are there alternative methods to flu shots?
Yes. There is a nasal mist available called FluMist.
“If you recall, it was taken off the market for awhile but it is back,” Dr. Segeleon said. “There were concerns in the past that it was less efficient but it has improved. However, the availability of FluMist is pretty limited.”
There is no medication that you can take that necessarily prevents the flu, he adds. The flu shot is the most common and most available.
10. How do I treat a child with the flu?
The recommended way to treat a child with the flu is symptomatic, he says. Rest, lots of fluids and Tylenol or Advil for a fever are acceptable. Parents are advised to avoid products containing aspirin.
“Fevers can be quite high — that’s okay. Just monitor hydration, rest, symptoms,” Dr. Segeleon said. “With that, watch for worsening symptoms such as difficulty breathing or difficulty with being awake. If there’s anything you’re overly concerned about, call your provider for further advice and guidance.”
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