Jennifer Johnson, D.O.
Cold and flu season is approaching, and that means it's time for flu shots.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend flu shots for children 6 months and older to protect themselves, as well as their friends and family members, from the flu. There are two options available — a shot or nasal mist — that your family can use to prevent complications from the flu, such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis.
The flu shot is safe to administer to your child. It does not cause the flu, but side effects can occur the first one to two days and include mild soreness where the shot was administered, and a mild fever or aching.
The virus can be found in your child's nose and throat, and it can come from anyone. It can spread by kissing, touching and holding hands of other infected people. The germs can stay on surfaces for many hours or spread through the air when a person coughs or sneezes.
The flu can change from year to year. Therefore, people do not stay immunized for more than a season. It is important to get the flu shot each year to stay immunized for each flu season, which runs from November to April. The flu shot is the most effective means of preventing the flu and its complications.
Honesty and distraction can help
I recommend being honest with your child that an appointment will include a shot. This can be scary for a child, but children do best when they know what to expect. The nurses in the clinic have different options to help with discomfort, including a bee-shaped device that vibrates to distract your child and using an ice pack for numbing skin. Other options include pain ease spray, numbing cream and oral sugar solution for infants.
In addition to being honest with kids about needing a shot, bringing something to distract your child may help, such as a favorite video that you can pull up on your phone.
While I don't always recommend a treat after a flu shot appointment, depending on the age of the child, an incentive — like ice cream after an appointment — can work.
Our nursing staff is skilled at making kids feel secure and having parents part of the process. Within a couple of hours of this little poke, they will have forgotten all about it.
Safety at clinics
Medical clinics are open and ready to safely administer vaccines for your child. Your family's safety is a priority for your health care provider, so that's why health care organizations have significantly changed their spaces and processes to protect the safety of patients of all ages.
Changes include screening at entrances, requiring everyone to wear a mask, enhanced cleaning standards and limiting the number of people in the building. These changes are made to create safe environments for in-person care to patients while protecting the safety of patients, staff and visitors.
When does the flu hit?
Traditionally, flu season peaks in February, with December and March being the second and third most common peak months, respectively. This is why it often feels like flu season drags on, and many people continue to catch and spread the flu.
Healthy kids can bounce back faster than adults, but because kids are in day care or school, they often get sick more often. While this may build their immune system, it can be hard on families.
To stay as healthy as possible, I recommend that families maintain healthy habits, including hand-washing, getting plenty of sleep and eating well — in addition to the flu shot — to help prevent from getting sick. This especially is important for certain populations, including infants and young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems, such as people being treated with chemotherapy or an organ transplant. These groups are at higher risk for flu-related complications.
There is no reason not to get the flu shot, unless your provider recommends against it. Otherwise, the benefits of the flu shot far outweigh the risk of serious illness.
Tips for avoiding the flu
To avoid the flu:
- Wash your hands and teach your kids to do the same. Wash hands thoroughly and frequently with warm water and soap. Do this before leaving the bathroom, eating or touching your face. A good rule of thumb is to wash hands for 20 seconds — about as long as it takes to sing the ABCs. Learn how to clean up your hand-washing skills.
- Cover your cough with the crook of your elbow, and teach your kids to do the same.
- Stay home from work or school if you're ill.
- Keep vaccines current for your family.