It’s influenza season and since the virus changes each year, it’s time to revaccinate your family. Peak season is November through April, with shots available in your doctor’s office and local pharmacies. The vaccine this season (beginning fall 2010) protects against the H1N1 strain as well as two other strains that might circulate in our community. (Remember last year you needed two separate vaccines: the seasonal flu vaccine and the H1N1 vaccine.) Vaccines are offered as a shot, injected through the skin, or as a spray mist into the nasal cavity.
In addition to the vaccine, here are some tips to avoid catching or spreading the flu.
•Use hand sanitizer and wash hands frequently, especially before eating
•Cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
•Don’t share cups or utensils
Despite these efforts, your child may still get sick. It’s easily confused with the common cold, but symptoms are more severe including:
•Fever & chills
•Headache and muscle aches
•Loss of appetite
•Nausea or vomiting
While the influenza vaccine may be first on your mind, it’s important to track the other vaccines and boosters that your children need.
Over the past year, two vaccine-preventable illnesses have been in the spotlight: whooping cough (pertussis) and measles.
A typical case of pertussis starts with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks, followed by weeks to months of rapid coughing fits that end with a whooping sound. The pertussis vaccine is safe for children and adults. Vaccination begins at 2 months, but infants are not adequately protected until the three shot series is completed at 6 months. This vaccination wears off by the time children finish middle school, when an additional vaccine should be considered.
Measles is a viral infection that spreads through the air by sneezing and coughing and causes a total-body skin rash and flu-like symptoms. Like pertussis, the best way to protect children from getting measles is immunization. Children should get the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine at 12 to 15 months of age and the follow-up booster between 4 and 6 years.
When it comes to immunizations, rumors and worries about safety have caused some parents to avoid vaccines. An individual child’s chance of catching a disease is low if everyone else is immunized, but as the number of unimmunized children grows the risk of an epidemic increases dramatically. Although it’s natural to want to ensure that everything you do is in your child’s best interest, before jumping to any conclusions or accepting any medically related message you see, talk to your doctor.
For more information on vaccinations and other health issues affecting your children, visit KidsHealth.org.
—Catherine Lamprecht, M.D.
Board-certified pediatric infectious disease physician at Nemours Children’s Clinic