A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Flu: A potentially serious disease for children

mother playing with young daughter in autumn leaves

October is a good time for flu vaccinations and allows protection as long as possible during the flu season.

Protecting children from illness, especially influenza or flu, is top of mind when you’re a parent and especially true when your children are very young.

You may think about flu being a common illness that just needs to run its course, but it can be severe for a young child.

Marshfield Clinic Pediatrician Dr. Julia Kyle has helped children of all ages through severe and not-so-severe flu seasons, including children with more complications from flu.

Especially young children, ages 5 and younger whether they’re otherwise healthy, could need medical care because of the flu,” she said, “and that could mean hospital care.”

Statistics bear this out. Nationally, more than 20,000 children under age 5 are hospitalized because of flu complications, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2013, more than 100 children died because of the flu.

Flu vaccine is developed each year to protect against flu viruses that will be most common during the upcoming season. Also, beginning in 2014, the CDC recommends using a nasal spray vaccine (LAIV) for healthy children ages 2-8 if they have no potential problems with it. Studies suggest the nasal spray vaccine may work better than a shot in younger children but if the nasal spray vaccine is not available right away and the flu shot is, flu experts say children ages 2-8 should get the flu shot.

Babies 6 months old and younger are not approved to get vaccinated for flu so protection for them is minimal. “That’s why it’s important for everyone caring for really young children or around young children to get vaccinated not only to protect themselves but also to protect those children,” Kyle said.

When should children get a flu vaccination?

October is a good time and allows protection as long as possible during the flu season. Getting the vaccine later can still protect children and adults since flu cases peak in January through March.

Kyle encourages parents and caregivers to talk with children’s health care providers about which vaccine is best and to get answers to questions, especially if a child has a chronic medical condition like:

  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Disorders of the brain or nervous system
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Heart disease
  • Disorders of the blood, kidney and liver
  • Weakened immune system
  • Or is on long-term aspirin therapy

“The best way to protect children from the flu is to get them vaccinated each year,” Kyle said. “A moment of discomfort for a child – and the parent – could potentially save that child from severe complications.”

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