Kids and Flu: Why the Flu Shot is Important
Fighting the Flu
Madison, Wisconsin - As young children head back to school or day care, they'll come in contact with other children who unknowingly may have flu viruses they picked up from other playmates and adults. That's why it's vital parents get their children vaccinated so they don't end up sick in bed and miss several days of school.
Dr. Greg DeMuri, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist and associate professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said infants and toddlers are most vulnerable to getting the flu.
"Children's immune systems are naïve, meaning they haven't seen as much influenza in the past, so they are more susceptible to it," he said. "The younger you are, the more severe the flu may be, and infants are just as vulnerable as older adults."
The good news is children older than two have an alternative to getting an injection. DeMuri said a nasal spray or mist is just as effective as the needle in the arm.
"The shot is 50 to 95 percent effective, while the mist is 86 to 96 percent effective," he said. "The mist is a live vaccine, meaning it has a weakened strain of influenza that reproduces so it stays in the body longer and there's more exposure to the immune system. So, in children, the mist is more efficacious and offers more protection."
DeMuri said infants should get injections until age two, when they can start getting the mist. However, children with serious medical problems or a history of wheezing may have side effects from the mist and should get the shot instead.
"The shot is safe in those individuals," DeMuri said. "It has the side effect of the pain from the injection and for some people, that's a big deal. Every vaccine has side effects, but they are rare. The percentage of people having a reaction to the vaccine is far less than the chances of catching influenza."
DeMuri said this year's flu vaccine will protect against four flu strains versus three in the past. He said immunity for the fourth strain was added after scientists discovered it among humans in the SouthernHemisphere.
"The more strains the better," he said. "We don't know what type of strains will be circulating in the population, and the vaccines are made a year ahead of time."
DeMuri stressed that there is no scientific evidence to prove that the flu vaccine causes autism in children.
"There are no links to the flu vaccine and autism," he said. "In fact, if a woman gets the flu during pregnancy, there could be potential harm to her and the baby, and complications such as premature birth." "If a mother gets vaccinated during pregnancy, she will pass the antibodies on to the fetus through the placenta, and protect the child from the flu through the first six months of life," DeMuri said.
DeMuri stresses that getting a flu shot can help avoid significant misery and school disruption for children. "A child can miss up to five days of school or remain bedridden for two weeks," he said. "Flu can be a real significant illness, and it can be life-threatening. If you want to avoid getting the flu, get your child vaccinated and get yourself vaccinated."
To learn more about prevention and vaccination, please visit www.uwhealth.org/flu.
Date Published: 10/01/2013