Flu Season Is Here, But Is It Too Late For The Vaccine?

Flu season is in full swing, but it’s not too late to get a flu vaccine. In fact, it’s never been easier and more convenient. The flu vaccine, which can be administered by syringe or by a nasal mist spray, can be obtained at a doctor’s office, or at almost any grocery store or drugstore in the area.

Still, despite the scientific facts that show a direct correlation between getting the flu vaccine and a decline in the spreading of the virus, many parents opt to not have their children immunized. They buy into the misinformation about the risks with vaccinations and the protection they offer against diseases. Sadly, this kind of fear-based decision-making has a ripple effect as it not only affects the child, but it puts classmates, teachers, family and members of the community at risk.

Another startling statistic? During flu season, which is typically November through April, more people will die from influenza than will succumb to the Ebola virus.

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles infectious disease specialist Pia Pannaraj, MD, talks about the flu virus and its symptoms, when to seek medical attention, how to prevent its spread and the importance of getting vaccine annually.

When does the influenza virus present itself?

Pannaraj: Flu season in California usually begins in late December and lasts through about April. It’s different every year, however. The flu tends to start on the East Coast, and then makes its way west.

Once vaccinated, when will the vaccine become effective?

Pannaraj: After vaccination it takes 10-14 days to become effective.

Which is more effective – the shot or nasal vaccination?

Pannaraj: In the past two years, the shot has proven to be more effective than the nasal spray. Children who have any underlying diseases such as a history of asthma or any other problems should get the flu shot. 

What do you think about parents deciding to opt out of vaccinating their children? Is this an issue with influenza?

Pannaraj: Parents being allowed to opt their children out of vaccines has really become an issue. It’s definitely an issue for diseases such as measles. We’re seeing outbreaks of measles in populations that are unvaccinated or in families that are unvaccinated. It’s also a problem with flu. The more people who are vaccinated means more protection in the entire community.

Can you explain how an unvaccinated child affects family, classmates and other people in the community?

Pannaraj: Anyone who gets the flu is contagious to others. Only vaccination can protect you from getting the flu. If you and your children are vaccinated, you will protect yourselves and others.

Why are people more fearful of catching the Ebola virus than the flu, despite statistics that say more people will die from influenza than Ebola this year?

Pannaraj: The Ebola epidemic has killed 6,300 people worldwide since it began in March 2014. During flu season, the flu can kill the same number of people in two weeks in the United States alone. The yearly flu season results in up to 36,000 deaths in the United States every year.

How can children avoid getting influenza?

Pannaraj: Prevention is key. Vaccinating is the number one way to prevent the flu. In addition to that, and particularly when they are in school, all the time they should wash their hands and avoid touching their eyes, their nose, their mouth when their hands are dirty or when they have not washed their hands. They should avoid being around other children who are sick and if they are sick, they should stay home from school, rest and get better.

What kind of treatment is recommended for children once they show flu symptoms?

Pannaraj: Flu typically causes a lot of fever, body aches and children don’t want to eat. They really just want to sleep a lot during the day. You can treat flu symptoms with or without medications. Drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest. Your doctor can prescribe an antiviral medication to make symptoms milder. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help reduce fever.

When should parents seek medical attention for a child who has the flu?

Pannaraj: They should seek medical attention if they are not able to take in enough fluids, if they are having trouble breathing such as having rapid breathing or showing some tugging of the skin around the collarbones or the ribs, or if they have any underlying diseases such as asthma and a worsening of their asthma symptoms or worsening of their wheezing.

About how long does the flu last and when is it safe for kids to return to school?

Pannaraj: Keep your child home from school for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone (without using a fever-reducing medicine).