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Flu Shots for Children

What You Need to Know

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Updated November 01, 2012

Although most people understand the importance of a yearly flu shot for people over the age of 65, many parents overlook the need for a flu shot for their children.

This is unfortunate, because most experts believe that flu epidemics begin and spread to adults from younger children.

If your child is in one of the high risk groups mentioned below, or if he has contact with someone in a high risk group, then you should consider getting him a flu shot each year. Keep in mind that the flu shot is now being formally recommended for all children 6 months to 18 years of age.

Influenza Facts

Influenza is a viral illness and typical flu symptoms include fever, cough, chills, sore throat, headache and muscle aches, which usually begin about 1-4 days after being exposed to someone with the flu. Symptoms are usually mild to moderate in most people, but can be more severe in the elderly or very young children, causing thousands of deaths each year (mostly elderly people).

You can get the flu if:

  • you are around someone with the flu that coughs or sneezes and the germs enter your body through your mouth or nose
  • you touch something, such as a door knob or sink faucet, that has been touched and contaminated by someone with the flu, and you then touch your own mouth or nose
Unlike many other viruses, there actually are treatments for influenza, but they must be started very early in the course of the illness and usually within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. These treatments include the medications zanamivir (Relenza), and oseltamivir (Tamiflu), although there has been resistance to these medicines recently so that they don't work as well.

Influenza Vaccine Facts

The influenza shot is an inactivated or killed vaccine and is usually changed each year to keep up with the most common strains of the influenza virus that are circulating and most likely to cause infections.

The influenza vaccine is available for children over the age of six months. To produce a good response, the first year that they get it, children under nine years of age need two doses of the vaccine given at least one month apart. Children over nine years and younger children who have previously had a flu shot only need a single injection each year, although younger children still may need two doses if they did not receive two or more doses of seasonal flu since July 1, 2010.

Flu shot reactions or side effects are usually mild, and may include soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, fever, and/or aches, and usually only last for 1-2 days. Children under 3 years should receive a 0.25ml dose of inactivated flu vaccine. Children over 3 years and adults should receive a dose of 0.5ml.

More serious side effects can rarely include a life-threatening allergic reaction.

For more information, including the latest news on this year's flu season, please visit our guide to Kids and the Flu.



Sources:

CDC. Prevention and Control of Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2012-13 Influenza Season. MMWR. August 17, 2012 / 61(32);613-618

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