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Influenza: What you need to know about avoiding the flu

Posted on Oct 03, 2017

Dr. Joseph Perno

As flu season approaches, Joseph Perno, M.D., chief medical affairs officer and a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital provides parents with important information to keep their children and families safe.

With influenza season approaching what should people be doing now in preparation?

First and foremost, everyone should be getting the flu vaccine. The influenza vaccine is recommended to be given to everyone 6 months and older. Although it is early October, most physicians have received the flu vaccine and this is the ideal time to get the immunization. Many times in Florida we will see the initial surge of influenza as early as October.

High-risk populations that should absolutely get vaccinated: children with underlying diseases that make them more susceptible to complications from flu, household contacts of these children and household contacts of infants less than 6 months. All health care professionals should be vaccinated and many health care facilities such as Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital make this mandatory.

What are some of the common reasons people do not want to get vaccinated? Are they valid?

Some incorrectly believe they don’t need a vaccination if they got one last year. Each year the vaccine composition changes and is designed to best target the upcoming flu season. Furthermore, our immunity wanes and our immune system needs a boost each fall.

Some believe the vaccination isn’t effective. Although vaccination is not 100 percent effective against the flu, it is our best strategy to prevent illness.

The flu vaccine in shot form is inactivated and you cannot get sick from it. It does take about two weeks to become fully protected so you are still vulnerable to seasonal flu. The flu mist is live, but it will not give you the flu. You may suffer from minor flu symptoms.

Those who believe they are naturally resistant to the flu still should be vaccinated because it protects not only yourself but also others around you who may not be able to get vaccinated.  For example, getting everyone in the home of a young baby vaccinated to protect a young infant is known as cocooning.

The Center for Disease Control is recommending not to use the nasal spray version of the vaccine. All kids need to get the shot.

What else can parents be doing to help keep kids and themselves healthy this flu season?

As usual good hand washing is our best defense against contagious viruses. Teach children to frequently wash their hands or use an appropriate hand rinse. Sanitize and disinfecting all toys and objects that sick children come into contact with. Teaching our children to cover their mouth and nose when sneezing is an important tip to diminish spread of any illness.

Keeping children home when they are sick is very important to decrease spread. This can be challenging as we try to keep kids in school and parents from missing work. It is also important for parents to remember to stay home when they are sick. Many of us attempt to work when we should quarantine ourselves.

This information was shared on WTVT-TV’s Doc on Call segment, which is aimed at helping parents learn more about children’s health issues. The segment airs each Monday morning on Good Day Tampa Bay.

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