Kids, Adults Should Get Flu Vaccine, American Lung Association Urges

Filed under: Health & Safety: Babies, Health & Safety: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Health & Safety: Big Kids, Health & Safety: Tweens, Health & Safety: Teens, Medical Conditions, Health


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Kids are the Typhoid Marys of flu season, experts say. Credit: Zaldylmg, Flickr

The summer breezes are still teasing us, even as our kids board their buses for the first weeks of school, but it won't be long before the 2010-2011 flu season is upon us.

Last year's H1N1 pandemic, more commonly known as swine flu, had families concerned about serious health issues relating to that virus. This year, the flu season will be no less unpredictable, since influenza is a constantly mutating virus. However, you can and should protect your family by getting vaccinated, says Dr. Norman A. Edelman, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association and professor of preventative medicine at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y.

The American Lung Association recently launched "Faces of Influenza," a campaign designed to encourage families to get vaccinated and dispel some of the myths surrounding the flu vaccine. This year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that everyone ages 6 months and older should be vaccinated for influenza, according to the ALA.

Edelman spoke with ParentDish recently about how much parents should or shouldn't worry about swine flu, the effectiveness of the flu vaccine and vaccination phobia.

ParentDish: Last year, lots of folks were panicking about the flu season, thanks to H1N1. What does the flu season look like this year, when will it start and will it be better, worse or status quo?

Norman Edelman: Last year was a funny flu season. We had the ordinary flu season, like we always do in the winter, and then we had H1N1, which was really like having a second flu season. While there really is no "typical" flu season, usually 20 to 25 percent of the population will catch the flu, and it typically starts when the weather begins to get cold. It can begin as early as November and as late as March, and it moves around the country. That's why it's important to get the vaccine when it is available, that way you will be protected for the entire season.

PD: So what is the outlook for H1N1 this year?

NE: Oh, geez, we don't know. However, the advisory committee for the CDC, which issues recommendations to the manufacturers of the vaccines, advised them to put (H1N1) into the vaccine mix this year. That's one of the big things that is new -- there is only one shot and that one will protect you from all the viruses that are out there that we know about.

PD: But the flu can change pretty quickly, right?
NE: The flu is a very promiscuous bug, and it is always changing. But, it is also not as common as people think, and what they think is the flu is actually another kind of virus.

PD: How can people tell if they have the flu?
NE: The usual symptoms are inflamed eyes, a cough and a runny nose. The distinguishing symptoms are muscle aches and a fever (of) 101.1 or higher.

PD: When should parents worry about flu symptoms?

NE: In general, the flu is usually mild. As long as your child is well-hydrated and behaving well, just use the medicines available and preferred by your pediatrician. However, if your child does have a fever, it's always best to call the (doctor).

PD: OK, so we've covered symptoms. Now, let's talk vaccinations. What are some of the common reasons why parents choose not to vaccinate their child?
NE: The flu vaccine is very much inside that group of vaccinations (that some parents avoid). From a public health point of view, it is very hard to get people vaccinated. Vaccine phobia is much more prevalent here in the United States, I think, because Americans don't trust their government as much as people in other countries do. Of course, that's just my opinion. Also, because of all the misinformation about autism and vaccines, even though the evidence against it is overwhelming. The problem is that most people think the flu is just a mild illness, and so they don't get the flu vaccine. But the fact is that tens of thousands of people die each year. They are usually older, and they die from complications caused by the flu, but especially with H1N1, hundreds of thousands of people land in the hospital, and a lot of them are kids.

PD: Why should parents be sure to vaccinate their kids for the flu, and should parents get vaccinated, too?

NE: You are doing your children a disservice if you don't get the flu vaccine because of vaccine phobia, and you're probably doing Grandma a disservice, too. Older people don't respond as well to the vaccine, and since kids are the Typhoid Marys of flu season, the best way to protect the elderly is to vaccinate the kids. Children may have a very mild form of the flu, but if Grandma gets it, it could be severe. So, it's important for kids to get it for their own protection, but also to protect the elderly.

PD: What about pregnant moms?
NE: Definitely, they should get vaccinated. Anyone who is at risk: The elderly, pregnant women, anyone with a chronic illness is at risk.

Related: One Third of Parents Oppose Swine Flu Vaccine for Their Kids, Poll Says

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