By Michelle Barajaz, MD, FAAP
Director, Baylor College of Medicine Residency Program
Most parents would do anything to protect their children from harm. We buckle them into their car seats, make them wear helmets, and teach them to look both ways when they cross the street. However, every year many parents fail to take a simple step that could save them from losing their child to a very real and present, but mostly preventable, danger: influenza. See how much you know about how to protect your child by taking our quick true/false quiz.
True or False? The flu is just a minor illness
False. Sadly, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that anywhere from 35 to 350 children in the U.S. die every year from the flu. On top of that, approximately 20,000 children in the U.S. are hospitalized each year with complications from the flu, which can include dehydration, pneumonia, respiratory failure, inflammation of the heart (myocarditis) or brain (encephalitis), overwhelming infection (sepsis), and multi-organ system failure, among others. Some of these complications can lead to permanent disability or even death. Those with chronic diseases such as asthma, heart disease, or certain neurological diseases are at the highest risk. Approximately 90 percent of children who died from influenza in 2013 were not vaccinated.
True or False? The flu vaccine will make you sick
False. The particles of virus used in making the flu vaccine are not active and cannot give you the flu. Sometimes, people are exposed to other illnesses when they visit their doctor’s office to get the vaccine or in the course of going about their daily lives during the time of year when respiratory illnesses are going around. This is not due to the vaccine.
True or False? You don’t need to get a vaccine every year, or if you’ve already had the flu
False. The flu is a very tricky virus that has learned to change its makeup around so that people’s immune systems can’t recognize it. This allows it to infect more people. Every year there are several types of flu floating around as well, so it’s best to get as much protection as you can and still get the vaccine even if you think you have already had the flu.
True or False? Some people can’t get the flu vaccine
True. Children under six months of age and children who have a personal history of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to the vaccine or to egg protein must rely on those around them to get the flu vaccine in order to protect them from contracting the disease. All children older than six months who don’t have this risk should receive a flu vaccine every year. The first time it is given, the child needs two doses given one month apart.
True or False? The flu vaccine works
Trick question; this is mostly true. The vaccine is by far our best chance to keep our kids from getting the flu, but it isn’t always 100 percent effective. Scientists do their best every year to determine how the virus will change and make a vaccine to fight it, but they aren’t always able to do that as well as we would like. When this happens, we see large outbreaks. This is why it is so important to continue washing your hands frequently, and to stay home if you are ill. Because it was found to be much more effective, only the injectable flu vaccine is being recommended this year. The flu mist was found ineffective and is no longer available.
If you need a primary care pediatrician for your child to receive a flu shot or other medical care, please call 1.877.778.KIDS to find a pediatrician near you.