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Q&A: Helping Your Kids Stay Healthy During Flu Season

Ina Stephens, MD, gave us this update on the flu vaccine. She specializes in pediatric infectious diseases and sees patients at By Your Side Pediatrics and Northridge Pediatrics.

flu vaccine info

Do parents need to get the flu vaccine to help protect their child?

Yes! Parents absolutely carry viruses and unknowingly pass them along to their kids.  In fact, parents, who are adults with likely some immunity/partial immunity to many viruses, may become “infected” with a virus and have little or no symptoms (a slight runny nose for instance), pass it on to their young child who has minimal immunity, and the child can exhibit many more symptoms of the virus.

So to answer your question, absolutely yes — parents should receive their flu vaccines! It’s especially important for parents with infants under 6 months of age, as these infants are too young to receive the influenza vaccine themselves.

What about enterovirus D68 (EV-D68)? The CDC says these infections will taper off at the end of fall. Why are viruses seasonal?

The answer to this question is largely unknown. No one really knows why the enteroviruses peak in late summer/fall and then fade away. There is certainly the known entity of “viral competition,” so when another virus starts to “peak,” like the influenza virus in the winter, they compete within the host environment, and the other “summer/fall” viruses fade. But why? No one knows. One interesting fact, though: In equatorial countries, influenza occurs throughout the year, but is highest in the monsoon or rainy season.

Does the flu shot prevent or affect D68?

The influenza vaccine will not prevent enterovirus D68. However, if you get the flu, especially if you have reactive airway disease or asthma, which can be triggered by influenza, then you’ll be more susceptible to a severe enteroviral infection if you also become infected with it.

How can you tell a difference between the flu and D68? The symptoms sound similar.

Clinically, it may be difficult to tell. Both viruses usually are accompanied by fever. Enterovirus D68 usually causes mild to severe respiratory problems as well as a runny nose, sneezing, cough and body aches. Severe symptoms may include difficulty breathing, especially in those who are prone (asthmatics).

Influenza usually comes on faster and is accompanied by chills, sore throat, fatigue, headaches and body aches. The only definitive way to distinguish is by viral testing.

With so many viruses and infections running around, not to mention the Ebola scare, what steps can we take and teach our kids to help avoid infections?

Yes, many viruses running around! Vaccination against the flu is most important to prevent infection. There is no vaccine to prevent enterovirus D68 infections. However, you can protect yourself if you:

  1. Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers or using the toilet. Enterovirus is found in stool, and good hand hygiene is important for anyone.
  2. Don’t rely on hand sanitizer. It’s not effective against enteroviruses.
  3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  4. Use good respiratory hygiene—coughing and sneezing into a tissue or elbow and properly disposing of tissues.
  5. Avoid kissing, hugging and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick.
  6. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys, doorknobs and computer keyboards, especially if someone is sick.
  7. Stay home when feeling sick and consult your doctor.
  8. Take your medicine as directed if you have asthma or other respiratory illness.
  9. Stay up to date with your immunizations, especially for the flu. This can protect against other common infections and lessen the risk of having a more severe illness if you are infected with enterovirus D68 at the same time as influenza.

What is the critical symptom for when you take your child to the doctor?

There is no “critical symptom,” but if your child has a high fever, significant cough, lethargy or any signs of respiratory distress, she should be evaluated by her doctor.

When is the best time to get it? How long does it last?

The best time to get it is late fall (October/November). The vaccine gives protection then during the likely flu season, which is usually late October until April. Sometimes doctors see cases as late as May.

Why have children died from the EV-D68 virus? What do you say to parents worried about that?

Any enterovirus can cause infection of the nervous system (i.e. meningitis, encephalitis, spinal cord inflammation, etc.).  It is a very rare infection/complication of any enterovirus, but it certainly occurs. There is no way to prevent this from occurring. If a child is experiencing neurological illness, they should be seen by their doctor.

Take a Deeper Dive: The CDC has more details for parents.

Do You or Your Kids Need a Flu Shot?

Our primary care physicians have plenty of vaccine for anyone 3 years and older.

Call us beforehand to ask about vaccine availability for patients under 3 before coming in.

Find a clinic to make an appointment

Tags: influenza

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