With fall almost over and winter on the way, many parents comment on how time simply flew by. And speaking of flu, “tis the sneezin” – so what better time to remind parents about flu shots for their children and what the flu is and is s-not.

There are more than 200 viruses that cause the common cold, and the cold caused by the influenza virus is a bad one characterized by higher fevers, severe dry cough, muscle aches, headaches, and fatigue that wipes you out for weeks.

Each year 20,000 children under 5 are hospitalized because of flu complications, with more than 300 children dying last year in this country from the H1N1 pandemic.  Many of these children were under the age of 2 and had chronic health problems like asthma and diabetes which put them at higher risk.

Influenza usually occurs in late fall and winter. The strain or type of influenza virus changes each year requiring an annual flu shot for protection.  That is why this year, thethe American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is recommending that all children from 6 months old to the age of 19 get a seasonal flu vaccine.  In addition, the AAP strongly recommends that the following people get vaccinated when it comes to preventing the spread of flu in children:

  • Adults in close contact with children under 5 – like parents, teachers and daycare providers
  • Anyone living with a child of any age with a chronic illness such as asthma or diabetes
  • Health care providers

This year’s vaccine will protect against the H1N1 strain plus two other very common strains of flu virus making it a great vaccine for children to get. The side effects of the flu shot in children remain extremely mild. In rare cases it can result in headache or fever which can be easily treated with acetaminophen – a much less serious problem than getting the flu itself.

The vaccine comes as an injection or as a nasal spray that can be given to healthy children over the age of 2.  Your child’s doctor can help you decide which version of the vaccine is best for your child.

Hopefully, sharp tips like this will put you in the nose, or should I say in the know, when it comes to recognizing the importance of getting your child vaccinated against influenza.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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