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How to protect your family this flu season By George Stotis, MD, Forest View Pediatrics

How to protect your family this flu season


Remember when the flu season was our only health concern when sending kids back to school? Avoiding the flu, and therefore avoiding getting the whole family sick, was a goal during the fall and winter. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, that changed. Over the last two years, our focus was on COVID-19 and trying to avoid missed school and workdays. Now, in our new normal, it’s about both. 

The good news is that there is a safe, simple and effective way to protect your children and family from both the flu and COVID-19. Getting the flu and/or COVID-19 vaccination for your child is the best thing you can do to prevent them from getting seriously sick, and avoiding missed school and workdays. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during 2019-2020, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 7.5 million influenza illnesses, 3.7 million influenza-associated medical visits, 105,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations, and 6,300 influenza-associated deaths.

What is the flu?

The flu, or influenza, is a respiratory illness that causes fever, chills, cough, sore throat, congestion, body aches and fatigue. Stomach illness with vomiting and diarrhea is commonly called the "stomach flu" — but this is not the same as influenza.

The flu virus changes each season, so even though you may have had the flu in the past, or have been vaccinated in previous years, you can get it again. It’s important to get your flu vaccination as soon as possible as it typically takes two weeks for the vaccine to be effective in preventing the flu.

Schedule your child's flu shot today!

Typically, flu season begins in late fall, peaks in January and February, and may last until late spring. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic and use of preventative measures (masks, social distancing, increased hand washing, etc.), the viral season of the last couple years have not followed our typical timeline. We really don’t know what to expect for flu season this year, which can be scary.

The flu and COVID-19

Because of COVID-19, preventing the flu is more important than ever for a few reasons.

  • Staying home and isolating: No matter what the cause, we suggest you stay home when sick and help prevent the spread of illness to others. The latest guidelines from the CDC indicate if someone who tests positive for COVID-19 has no symptoms, they can end isolation after day 5. However, someone who tests positive for COVID-19 and has symptoms would need to isolate through day 10. The best way to prevent serious illness, and therefore the likelihood of having symptoms and needing to isolate longer, is by getting vaccinated.

  • Similar symptoms: Both the flu and COVID-19 share similar symptoms in kids — fever, chills, cough, sore throat, congestion, body aches and fatigue — which can delay quickly diagnosing and treating someone. Getting both viruses at the same time can also make it more difficult to recover.

  • Preventing crowded hospitals: Both the flu and COVID-19 can cause more people to need care in a hospital and we want to avoid hospitalizations as much as possible. According to the CDC, during 2019-2020, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 105,000 flu-related hospitalizations.

  • Overall health: First, getting the vaccination is an easy way to help protect your family and community. It contributes to your overall health and the health of the community, making it less likely someone will have a severe reaction to other respiratory viruses and need hospitalization. The vaccination can also help shorten how long you have the illness and lead to less missed school and workdays.

All of these concerns can be reduced with the flu vaccination. Getting the vaccination is an easy way to help protect your family and community.

Is the flu vaccine safe?

The flu vaccine has been studied extensively, and is safe and recommended for nearly everyone older than 6 months of age.

Most brands of influenza vaccine do not contain mercury. However, if mercury or the preservative thimerisol is present, extensive research has shown that this does not cause autism.

Patients with a mild egg allergy can receive routine influenza vaccines. A special egg-free vaccine is available for people with a history of a severe, life-threatening egg allergy. 

While there may be some side effects of getting the vaccination, like soreness at the site of injection and mild flu-like symptoms, the vaccine does not cause the flu. The potential side effects of the vaccination are much less severe than a potential case of the flu. This is also the case for the COVID-19 vaccine.

What about FluMist?

While the FluMist will be available this flu season, we believe the flu shot is the best way to get the vaccine because the effectiveness of FluMist has been far less than that of the flu shot. The FluMist will be available at some Children’s Wisconsin primary care offices, but it is important to know that some children should not get the FluMist because of age, certain health conditions, or other reasons. Your health care provider can help you decide.

Where to get the flu vaccination

Children’s Wisconsin is offering a variety of times and locations to get flu shots to make it as easy as possible. Whether your child is a Children’s Wisconsin patient or not, you can schedule a flu and/or COVID-19 vaccination appointment online.

The flu and other vaccines should be covered by health insurance without a copayment or coinsurance, but be sure to check with your insurance company to find out if you have to get the flu shot from a specific doctor or location.

What if your child gets the flu?

If your child does get the flu, contact their doctor’s office by phone to determine if you should make an appointment or if they need any antiviral drugs. If your child is prescribed antivirals by their doctor, please ensure they take them as instructed. This can sometimes make the difference between a milder illness versus a more serious one. It is also important they rest and drink plenty of fluids.

Perhaps most importantly, do not send your child to school or daycare if they are sick. Staying home will prevent the spread of your child’s respiratory symptoms from both the influenza and COVID-19 viruses. Likewise, if you get the flu, be sure to stay home from work and rest.

To learn more about the flu or to schedule your child’s flu shot, visit childrenswi.org/flu