Don't skimp on vaccines, cautions a pediatric infectious disease physician. She talks about flu as well as two other diseases recently in the headlines – whooping cough and measles.
by Catherine Lamprecht, M.D.
When it's back-to-school time, that also means that influenza season isn't far behind. The influenza virus changes from year to year, so children and adults need to be revaccinated each season. The months of November through April are considered peak influenza season, and flu shots are available in your doctor’s office and local pharmacies.
Flu shots are offered as a shot that is injected through the skin or as a spray mist into the nasal cavity. Children younger than 9 years of age need two doses one month apart if they have never had a flu shot. Older children and teens need only one dose.
Side effects may include soreness or swelling at the injection site, and occasionally headache or low-grade fever. Children who receive the nasal spray may have runny nose, sneezing, or low-grade fever.
In addition to getting the flu shot, here are some tips to help your child avoid catching or spreading the flu:
Despite these efforts, your child may still catch influenza. The flu is easily confused with the common cold, but symptoms are usually more severe than the typical sneezing and stuffiness of a simple cold. Flu symptoms include the following:
Pertussis and measles
While the influenza vaccine may be the first one on your mind, it’s also important to keep track of the other vaccines and boosters that your children may need.
Over the past couple of years, two vaccine-preventable illnesses in particular have been in the spotlight: whooping cough (pertussis) and measles.
A typical case of pertussis starts with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks, followed by weeks to months of rapid coughing fits that sometimes end with a whooping sound.
Pertussis cases are on the rise. For example, as recently as June 2010, California reported a significant increase in cases of pertussis. The 901 cases reported as of June 15 are a four-fold increase from this period last year, when only 219 cases were recorded. Pertussis is cyclical, and cases tend to peak every two to five years.
The pertussis vaccine is safe for children and adults. Vaccination begins at two months of age, but infants are not adequately protected until the initial series of three shots is complete at age 6 months. The series of shots that most children receive wears off by the time they finish middle school, when an additional vaccine should be considered. Contact your child’s primary care physician or local health department if you have any questions about your child’s pertussis protection.
Measles is a viral infection that spreads easily through the air by sneezing and coughing. The illness causes a total-body skin rash and flu-like symptoms, including a fever, cough and runny nose.
Like pertussis, the best way to protect children from getting measles is immunization. Children should get the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine at 12 to 15 months of age and then the follow-up booster shot between 4 and 6 years.
Are vaccines safe?
When it comes to immunizations, rumors and worries about their safety have caused some parents to avoid vaccines.
An individual child’s chance of catching a disease is low if everyone else is immunized. But as the number of unimmunized children in a population grows, the risk of sparking an epidemic increases dramatically.
Although it’s natural to want to ensure that everything you do is in your child’s best interests, when parents don’t have their children vaccinated, it can affect everyone. Before jumping to any conclusions or accepting any medically related message you see or read about, talk to your doctor first.
For more information on vaccinations and other health issues that affect child parenting, visit Nemours’ KidsHealth.org.
Catherine Lamprecht, M.D., is a board certified pediatric infectious disease physician at Nemours Children’s Clinic in Orlando, Florida, and provides services to diagnose and treat children of all ages with chronic or recurrent infections as well as unusual bacterial, fungal or viral infections.© Photo by Pipa100 | Dreamstime.com