While you can catch the flu any time of the year, the virus is most common in the US between October and May and usually peaks around January or February.
The flu vaccine is the best way for your whole family to prepare for this coming flu season. Flu viruses are unpredictable. They are always changing over time and from year to year. So parents should get their children (and themselves) vaccinated as soon as possible.
What is the Flu?
Flu is short for influenza. It is an infection of the breathing system (nose, throat and lungs), but it can affect the whole body.
All flu viruses cause illness that can last a week or more. Symptoms include:
- A sudden fever (usually above 101°F or 38.3°C)
- Chills and body shakes
- Headache, body aches, and being a lot more tired than usual
- Sore throat
- Dry, hacking cough
- Stuffy, runny nose
The flu is very contagious. Flu viruses spread easily through the air with coughing and sneezing. They also spread by touching things like doorknobs or toys and then touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Who Needs the Flu Vaccine?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all people (6 months of age and older) get the flu vaccine every year.
This includes children, their brothers and sisters, parents, and caregivers. When others are vaccinated, they are less likely to get the flu. As a result, they are less likely to pass it on to children. This is known as "cocooning."
Vaccination is especially important for:
- Children with conditions that increase their risk of complications from the flu
- Children of American Indian/Alaska Native heritage
- Adults who provide care for children
- with high-risk conditions
- children younger than 5 years (especially infants younger than 6 months)
- Doctors, nurses and other health care workers
- All women who are pregnant, are considering pregnancy, have recently delivered, or are breastfeeding during the flu season
This Season’s Flu Vaccine
For the first time, the flu vaccine includes either 3 strains (trivalent) or 4 strains (quadrivalent). These are the strains that are anticipated to circulate around the US this flu season.
Some of the strains in the vaccine have changed from last season. This is one of the reasons why people need to receive the flu vaccine each year.
The trivalent vaccine protects against 1 strain from last season and 2 new strains. These are:
- Influenza A (H1N1)
- Influenza A (H3N2)
- Influenza B
The new quadrivalent vaccine protects against the same 3 strains as the trivalent vaccine and adds a different influenza B strain. The AAP does not recommend one vaccine over another this season. Just be sure everyone gets one!
Manufacturers think more than 130 million doses of influenza vaccine will be distributed in the United States this season. This means enough vaccine should be available in your community.
Who Should Get Which Flu Vaccine?
There are 2 types of flu vaccine.
- Inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV) is given as a shot. There are 2 kinds of shots. The intramuscular (into the muscle) shot is licensed and recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older, including people with and without chronic medical conditions. The intradermal (into the skin) shot is licensed for use only in people 18 through 64 years of age.
- Live-attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) is sprayed into the nose. LAIV is recommended for healthy children 2 years and older.
Both types of flu vaccine are safe and work well to protect your child from the flu. Your doctor can help you decide which vaccine is best for your child and family.
Vaccine Doses in Children
The number of vaccine doses needed this season depends on your child’s age and past flu vaccine history.
- Children 6 months through 8 years of age should get 2 doses if they did not get 2 flu vaccines since July 1, 2010, or only 1 dose if they did.
- Children 9 years and older need only 1 dose.
No flu vaccine is licensed for children less than 6 months of age.
Egg Allergy & the Flu Vaccine
Research shows the flu shot is safe for nearly all children with egg allergy.
- Any child who has had a mild reaction to egg (hives) can receive the flu vaccine.
- If your child has had a severe reaction to egg (facial swelling, wheezing, trouble breathing, vomiting), your pediatrician should check with an allergist before giving the flu vaccine.