Most parents would be surprised to learn that in the US the 6th leading cause of death among children under 4 years old is the flu and its complications. We know the elderly are at risk; but so are young children. Overall 114,000 Americans each year are hospitalized with the flu, and more than 36,000 die (mostly those over age 65) – yet the flu is often prevented easily with an annual flu vaccine.
The CDC has launched their 2003-2004 campaign to be sure those at high risk receive the vaccine. This includes healthy children age 6 to 23 months and children over 24 months who have a chronic health problem such as asthma, diabetes, sickle cell, heart disease, kidney disease, or an immune disease (including HIV/AIDS). It also includes all kids on chronic aspirin therapy. Sadly, only 9 to 22 percent of children with asthma get the vaccine each year!
The flu is extremely contagious, and often spreads from children to seniors (those at the highest risk). Vaccination may not only protect your child, but also others you love. Parents most often hesitate either because the flu seems mild (it can be, but it can also make children very, very sick) or because they are afraid their children will get the flu from the shot (they won’t). Children can have flu-like symptoms as side effects. I suspect that those who get the side effects might also be more likely to have serious cases of the real flu.
The flu season is just winding down in the Southern Hemisphere, where it was moderately severe. Influenza A (H3N2) was the main strain. It can be quite nasty, but is targeted in this fall’s vaccine. The best time to be vaccinated in the Northern Hemisphere is October or November. Children over age 5 can use the nasal spray instead of the shot. Supplies of the vaccine look to be plentiful this year.