For the first time in almost 30 years, the influenza B is dominating flu season. This is particularly worrisome for parents, as influenza B poses an even greater risk of complications in young children than influenza A.
Those 5-years-old and under are especially more likely to suffer complications from both types of flu strains, including pneumonia, dehydration, worsening of medical problems such as asthma and heart disease, brain dysfunction, sinus and ear infections, and in rare cases, death. But the rise of influenza B has added another layer of concern. According to the CDC, 21 of the 32 pediatric deaths during the current season have been attributed to influenza B.
The best way to fight the flu is to prevent it, and annual flu shots are the most effective means of prevention. While flu season is already in full swing, it is not too late to vaccinate yourself or your child against the flu and protect yourselves from the virus’s serious complications.
Despite the dangers of the flu and the availability of the flu vaccine, many people still hesitate. Misconceptions about the vaccine abound, so it is important to arm yourself with the facts:
- Influenza or the flu is more dangerous than the common cold for children.
- Each year, millions of kids get sick with the flu, thousands get hospitalized and some kids die from the flu.
- Flu vaccines are very safe and made using strict safety and production measures.
- Vaccines do not cause flu illness. They are made with flu viruses that have been inactivated and therefore not infectious.
- Most common side effects include soreness, redness and or swelling where the shot was given.
- Other flu vaccine side effects, such as headache, fever, nausea, muscle aches, and fatigue, are not to be confused with the actual flu illness.
Flu shots and nasal spray flu vaccines are both options for vaccination, depending on the age of your child and whether your child has any underlying medical conditions.
Because the flu is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not effective to treat the disease. Antivirals, such as Tamiflu have been found to reduce the severity of symptoms and to cut the duration of illness by one day. But they work best when started during the first two days of the onset of the illness. And they come with their own host of side effects, including nausea and vomiting. Rather than reach for antivirals after infection, it is far more effective to seek a vaccine to prevent infection.
In addition to the flu vaccine, other everyday measures can also help prevent the spread of disease, including:
- Cover coughs and sneezes.
- Stay away from people who are ill.
- Wash hands often.
- Avoid touching your mouth, eyes, and nose without washing your hands first.
- Clean surfaces that may be contaminated with the flu virus.
If your child does develop the flu, remember that they are contagious one day prior to seven days after the start of symptoms. It is therefore important to keep your children home from school or daycare and make sure they get plenty of rest and fluids. If your children are younger than 5 (especially if they are younger than 2), or if they have chronic health problems, call or take your child to their doctor right away.