Put the Flu Shot at the Top of Your to-Do List

This post was written by Georgina Peacock, MD, MPH, FAAP. Dr. Peacock is a developmental pediatrician and medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Follow Dr. Peacock on Twitter @DrPeacockCDC.

I’m a mom of four children and a developmental pediatrician. My list of things to do is constantly growing, especially since the new school year has started. But one thing I’m making sure is at the top of my “to do” list for myself, my family, and my patients is the flu shot.  

Why? The flu is not something to play around with, especially for children. I hear all the time – “what’s the difference between the flu and a cold,” “the flu can’t be that bad,” and “I never got the flu shot and I’ve never gotten the flu.”  The bottom line is, flu is unpredictable and how severe it is can vary widely from person to person and from one season to the next depending on many things. I’ve seen that the flu can make people very sick and can cause death. That sounds scary, but it’s the truth.

I can tell you that the flu can be much more severe than a common cold. And, if you suspect your child has the flu, talk with your doctor.  Your child may need to start antiviral medication right away depending on age, underlying health, and how sick they are. A child who has the flu might have a fever, headache, cough, chills, sore throat, be very tired, runny or stuffy nose, vomiting and diarrhea, or body aches.  As if those things aren’t bad enough, the flu can also cause major problems for children, especially those who have special health care needs or have certain medical conditions like asthma, seizures, and cerebral palsy.  Some of these problems can include pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of the medical condition.

The good news is that there is something you can do as a parent: make sure you, your children, and those who care for your children, like child-care providers, get the flu vaccine. The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine.

Who should get a flu shot?

All people who are 6 months or older. Flu vaccination is especially important in groups such as:

  • Children who have special health care conditions like asthma, a disability like cerebral palsy, or seizures
  • All household members and people who come into contact with your child like teachers and child-care providers
  • Doctors and other healthcare workers

Should my child get the flu shot or the nasal spray?

  • Children under 2 years of age should get the flu shot, not the nasal spray.
  • Children who have a special health care need or conditions like asthma, cerebral palsy, or seizure should get the flu shot, not the nasal spray.

I know for my family, the fall is a busy time filled with school and sports activities. Taking time now to get the flu shot will help keep my family healthy throughout fall and winter. I hope you all will take the time too.  

You can learn more about the flu and flu shot on the CDC’s website. Another great resource for parents about the flu is www.HealthyChildren.org

Image: Female doctor pediatrician with breathing mask via Shutterstock

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