It’s the time of year to be thinking about flu vaccines. “Flu season” generally runs from October through March (sometimes even as late as May or June) and the flu vaccine is updated each year to protect against what are predicted to be the four primary strains of flu for the current season.
When we talk about “flu”, we are referring to an illness caused by the influenza virus. The virus is spread very easily from person to person and causes a respiratory illness that lasts 1-2 weeks and is characterized by abrupt onset of fever, chills, headaches, body aches, sore throat, congestion/runny nose, and hacking cough. There may also be some associated vomiting or diarrhea, but generally when you hear people refer to a “stomach flu” in which these are the primary issues without the previously discussed respiratory symptoms then they more than likely actually have a different type of gastrointestinal virus (not the influenza virus).
For most people, the flu is generally a self-limited illness that resolves on its own. However, even in healthy individuals (and particularly those at higher risk) the virus can cause very severe symptoms and/or lead to secondary complications such as ear infections, sinus infections, and pneumonia, sometimes requiring hospitalization and occasionally even resulting in death. For this reason, our practice (along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control, and most other major medical organizations) does recommend the flu vaccine for all children aged 6 months old through adulthood.
As noted above, the vaccine prevents against four strains of the virus (two influenza A strains and two influenza B strains). There are two different types of flu vaccines available: an inactivated/killed virus vaccine that is administered by an injection/shot and a live but attenuated/weakened virus vaccine that is administered by a nasal spray. Neither form can actually “give you the flu” and each are noted to be highly effective (although efficacy can vary from year to year and amongst different patient populations). The vaccine can help in preventing the transmission of flu altogether and/or lead to milder symptoms if someone does still contract the infection. The most common side effects include low grade fevers and fatigue for a few days afterward as well as mild runny nose (if the nasal spray form was given).
For the past several years, our office has arranged “flu clinic” weeks during October in which patients could come in for walk-in appointments to receive their vaccine based on where your name fell in the alphabet. This year, however, we are not planning to designate any official “flu clinic” weeks since the timing of our vaccine shipments throughout the fall will be a little less predictable. This is due to some issues beyond our control involving the production and distribution of the vaccines from various pharmaceutical companies. As such, we would ask that you call the office to set up a date to bring your children in for their flu vaccines to confirm that we have the proper vaccine for them in stock. Please do this sooner rather than later to ensure coverage for your children during flu season; this is especially important if they have conditions putting them at higher risk for serious complications from the flu, such as asthma, heart disease, neurologic disorders, diabetes, or history of prematurity.
If you have further questions or concerns about flu vaccine please speak with one of our physicians and/or consult the links below. We feel very strongly about protecting our patients from this potentially serious illness each year and would not like them to go unprotected due to any concerns related to misinformation that may have been received. Finally, please consider receiving a flu vaccine for yourself as well to provide further protection for your children, especially if you have a baby under 6 months old who is not yet old enough to receive his/her own vaccine.