By Jacqueline D. Watkins, Program Evaluator, U.S. Army Public Health CommandAugust 1, 2014
Parents, have your children received their annual influenza vaccines? Influenza, commonly known as "the flu," is defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a contagious disease that is seasonally spread throughout the United States. Everyone is susceptible to contracting the influenza virus. However, research shows risk is highest among children.
The influenza virus is more dangerous than a common cold for most children. Each year more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized due to influenza complications, and some of those illnesses have resulted in death. All children under the age of 5 are susceptible to influenza complications, but research indicates certain children may be more vulnerable. The CDC reports severe influenza complications are most common among children under the age of 2. Furthermore, children with chronic health problems such as asthma, diabetes and disorders of the brain or nervous system (such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy) have an increased risk of developing severe influenza complications.
The severe health complications caused by the seasonal influenza virus can be prevented. To protect your children from the flu, the CDC recommends every child beginning at age 6 months receive an annual influenza vaccine. Because infants under 6 months are unable to receive the influenza vaccine, parents and older children in the household are highly encouraged to receive the influenza vaccine. This prevention strategy is the best safeguard to protect infants from contracting the influenza virus.
There are a variety of influenza vaccines available for children. For instance, one type, called trivalent, protects against three strains of the influenza virus (usually, two types of influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus). Another, called quadrivalent, protects against four strains. Furthermore, some vaccines are given as an injection (shot), while others are given as a mist sprayed into the nose. The wide variety of influenza vaccine options can be confusing for most parents. To determine the influenza vaccine most appropriate for your children, consult your pediatrician or primary care provider.
The best way to protect your children from contracting the influenza virus is to ensure they--and you--receive an annual influenza vaccine. Once you and your family have received your influenza vaccines, it will take approximately two weeks for antibodies to develop to protect your family against the influenza virus.
Remember: everyone must receive the influenza vaccine to ensure children are protected before the influenza outbreak spreads throughout your local community.