Each winter or spring, millions of people are infected with influenza, thousands of children are admitted to pediatric intensive care units, or PICUs, for complications of influenza infection, and as many as 200 of them die.
Influenza, or flu, virus infection causes a respiratory illness with symptoms that may include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, headaches, body aches, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea.
Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent flu infection and its complications, but rates of flu vaccination are often low, even in vulnerable populations.
A recent study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases showed that flu vaccination decreased children’s risk of needing PICU care for an influenza infection by 74 percent. This adds to growing evidence that the flu vaccine is effective not only at avoiding influenza infection, but also at decreasing the severity of infection, even for those who get influenza.
Who should be vaccinated against the flu?
The U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that everyone older than 6 months should be vaccinated every year. Because there are many different types of flu virus that can change over time, the vaccine itself changes from year to year to provide the best protection.
Vaccination is particularly important for people at high risk of severe flu illness, including:
— Children younger than 5
— Adults older than 50
— Adults and children who have a chronic disease, including asthma and diabetes
It’s also important for anyone who lives with or cares for someone at high risk for severe flu to be vaccinated each year. This not only protects the person being vaccinated from getting flu, but also can help protect a vulnerable loved one from developing a life-threatening flu infection.
Which flu vaccine is right for my child?
Children ages 6 months to 2 years old should get a flu shot; they are too young to get the nasal spray flu vaccine. For some children ages 2 to 8, the nasal spray flu vaccine may be more effective if it is available, otherwise, the flu shot is the best option. For people older than 8, the flu shot and the nasal spray are equally effective.
Children getting a flu vaccine for the first time should get two doses at least 28 days apart. There is a small group of people who should not get the flu vaccine.
Your health care provider can help you determine which strategy makes the most sense for you and your family.