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The Flu: What parents need to know

 Children at play with an orange pumpkinNo parent wants to see their child fall ill, but it can be hard to avoid in the colder months of the year. Flu (influenza) season usually runs from October through May and can be difficult to avoid without vaccination. Chief of General Pediatrics, Shirley Huang, MD, and Charles (Chas) Hannum, MD, share what parents need to know about the flu.

It can be dangerous

Influenza is the name for a series of viruses that are spread through the air. Symptoms of the flu are similar to the common cold. “You can expect to see fever, chills, body aches, nasal congestion, cough and difficulty breathing,” lists Dr. Hannum.

“The degree of the illness can be much worse” than the common cold and can cause serious infections that require hospitalization in many young children. The CDC estimates between 140,000 – 960,000 people are hospitalized, and 12,000 – 79,000 deaths have occurred each year due to the flu virus since 2010.

Protecting other children, while protecting your own

Anyone can develop infections and complications from the flu, but it is even more dangerous for kids with chronic lung diseases like asthma, or infants younger than six-months-old who are still building their immune systems.

A huge part of our responsibility as a community is to protect others around us that may not have the strong immune systems capable of fighting off influenza viruses. “Because the flu virus can spread easily, we recommend that all children ages 6 months and older be vaccinated for flu as soon as possible. This is a way that we can keep our children, as well as their families and communities, healthy and in school,” explains Dr. Huang.

Flu vaccines don't give your child the flu

One of the most common concerns of parents regarding flu vaccines is that it may give his or her child the flu. Dr. Hannum assures us that this is impossible due to the way the vaccine is made. “While the flu vaccine has side effects like pain and redness at the injection site or even a mild fever, this is not the flu.” Flu vaccines are either made with “inactivated (killed) flu viruses” that are not infectious, or “a single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus)” in order to trigger an immune response to get the body ready to fight off the real deal.

The make-up of the flu vaccine changes every year, so it is very important to get a new flu vaccine each flu season. “Vaccination before flu season starts provides the best protection against getting the flu,” adds Dr. Hannum.

Flu clinics are easy to find

Patients of Tufts Medical Center can receive flu shots in our General Pediatrics and Adolescent Clinics.

Call your child’s pediatrician to find flu clinic locations near you. If you are looking for a new pediatrician, request an appointment online or call 617-636-5255.