Friday, January 14, 2011

Post-holiday blues: Don’t let the flu get you down

Today's guest blog entry is by Carol J. Baker, MD, a professor of pediatrics, molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine. She is also past president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and chair of the foundation’s Childhood Influenza Immunization Coalition.

With the holidays behind us, it’s easy to fall into a slump, but getting influenza — the flu — shouldn’t be one of reasons why. While each flu season is different and unpredictable, we know that every year children get sick and it’s not “just a cold.” Flu causes almost as many hospitalizations in the youngest kids as it does in the elderly; some children, even healthy ones, die. Fortunately, flu season hasn’t peaked yet — typically it does so in February. If you or anyone in your family hasn’t yet been vaccinated, do so now. This year, flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older.

Despite all we know about influenza, many parents are confused about the best way to protect their children against flu and myths keep them from seeking vaccination.

Myth: The vaccine causes influenza. Fact: Flu vaccine can’t cause influenza. The virus strains in the vaccines are either killed, as in the injected vaccine, or weakened, as in the nasal spray vaccine, but it takes two weeks to receive full protection.

Myth: Healthy children don’t need flu vaccine. Fact: The flu viruses change each year. About 50 percent of the flu deaths and hospitalizations in children each year are in healthy children.

Myth: Proper hygiene, like hand-washing, and cough etiquette are just as effective in preventing influenza. Fact: Hygiene is helpful, but it’s not enough for airborne, highly contagious infections like influenza. Vaccination offers the best protection.

Today it is easier than ever to get your family vaccinated, since pharmacies, some schools and even grocery stores, can administer the influenza vaccine in addition to doctor’s offices and clinics. There are two vaccine options: an injected vaccine that is available for everyone older than 6 months of age and a nasal spray for healthy children age 2 years and older. The flu season is just beginning in most places — make sure you and your family are prepared.

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