Flu season spans fall and winter, and can affect anyone, though the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases note that infection rates are highest among children (20-30% annually). We asked Allison Meyer, MD, PPG – Pediatrics, PPG – Primary Care, to answer some basic questions regarding influenza and how parents can protect their kids from a severe setback from the virus.
How does the flu change from year to year?
Influenza is different each year because there are different strains of the flu that can circulate each year. The flu is a virus that can change its genetic code to make different antigen proteins, which alters our immune system’s ability to recognize it. Most of the time, these changes are slight, and the antigen proteins are very similar, meaning our immune system can still recognize it. However, given enough time, these minor changes can add up and alter the antigen protein enough that it’s unrecognizable. This means that the antibodies our bodies made to fight off the previous version won’t recognize or protect us against the mutated strain. This is why people can be infected with influenza multiple times over the course of their lives.
Should children get the flu vaccine?
Yes! Children younger than five years old are at greater risk for complications from influenza, as are those with chronic medical conditions, like asthma, neurological conditions, obesity, etc. Complications from the flu include ear infections, pneumonias, and inflammation of the muscle tissues, heart and/or brain. Children older than five are less likely to have complications, but can spread the flu to other family members who might be high risk. The flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu illness in children, reduce doctors visits for flu and reduce missed school days. It has also been shown to reduce flu-associated hospitalizations and deaths.
Parkview offers flu shot clinics in several communities. You can find more information on these locations here. Parkview MyChart users with an established PPG – Primary Care provider, can schedule a flu shot appointment with your provider’s office via the app or desktop version. There are different ways to get a flu vaccine, so ask your doctor what is right for you.
Is it possible to get influenza from the vaccine?
No. The flu vaccine is made from a killed flu virus or is made of the antigen proteins, both of which are just blueprints for your immune system to study. This allows your body to mount an immune response when it encounters the real thing.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Symptoms of influenza in children can include:
- runny nose
- nasal congestion
- sore throat
- body aches
How can parents treat the flu in children?
Flu is typically treated with supportive measures. It’s common for children with influenza to have a fever. Temperatures can get as elevated as 104°F at times. If your child runs a fever this high, you don’t need to take them to the emergency room for the temperature alone. You can use fever-reducing medication and wait to see if the temperature goes down. If it does, continue supportive treatments at home. If it does not, contact your healthcare provider or, if you have reason for greater concern, seek emergency care.
Fever-reducing medications, like Tylenol® and ibuprofen (for kids older than six months) will keep children comfortable when they are fighting the flu. You can rotate these medicines every four hours, as needed, to provide relief. If your child is younger than six months, just give Tylenol every six hours, as needed.
You can also try over-the-counter medications to address other symptoms, but remember, influenza is a virus that will need to run its course. There are antiviral medications available via prescription that can help reduce the duration of the symptoms, but you will need to discuss this option with your child’s pediatrician or family doctor.
In addition, it’s important to make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
When should parents take their child to see their healthcare provider?
If you think your child may have the flu and are interested in starting an antiviral medication, reach out to see your child’s doctor within 48 hours (about two days) of symptoms starting. If you are not interested in starting an antiviral medication, reach out to your provider if you feel your child’s symptoms are worsening, particularly if your child is having difficulty breathing or displaying signs of lethargy, or showing signs of dehydration, including dark or yellow urine, no tears when crying or no urine or wet diapers.