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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

Just about every parent has been there. One day, your child comes home from school with the sniffles. By bedtime, they have a little cough and maybe a sore throat. When they wake up in the morning, they’ve developed a fever and their body is achy. They have the flu. And you know it’s just a matter of time before everyone in the family gets it, too. 

The good news is that there is a safe, simple and effective way to protect your children and family. Getting the flu vaccination for your child is the best thing you can do to prevent them from getting seriously sick and getting others sick from the flu. 

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 or been vaccinated in the past, you can get it again. It’s important to get your flu vaccination every year as soon as possible as it typically takes two weeks for the vaccine to be fully effective.

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.

Is the flu vaccine safe?

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

Mercury and autism are common concerns about the flu vaccine. Rest assured, most brands of influenza vaccine do not contain mercury. However, if mercury or the preservative thimerisol is present, extensive research has shown that it has no correlation at all to autism.

For patients with a mild egg allergy, it is safe for them to receive the normal influenza vaccines. For those with a severe or life-threatening egg allergy, there is a special egg-free vaccine available.

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. 

What about FluMist?

While the FluMist will be available this flu season, experts at Children’s Wisconsin believe the flu shot is the best way to get vaccine. In recent years, the FluMist has been far less effective than 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 vaccine

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 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.

If my child gets the flu, do we have to see the doctor?

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 the flu. Likewise, if you get the flu, be sure to stay home from work and rest.

If my child gets sick with another virus, how do I know when we should visit the doctor?

If your child is sick and you are unsure if your child should see the doctor, consider using the Children’s Wisconsin app to help you decide. The app offers a symptom checker to understand if your child needs to be seen. We don't want families waiting to see a doctor if it isn't necessary. The symptom checker can help determine if your child is better off at home resting under the covers, rather than sitting in a waiting room.

If our symptom checker shows your child should be seen, check openings for a same day appointment with your child’s primary care provider, or consider reserving a spot at urgent care if your child needs to be seen. The Children’s Wisconsin app can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play. 

What is RSV and how is it different from the flu?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common cause of respiratory illness in all age groups. Among infants and young children, it is the most common cause of bronchitis, croup, ear infections and pneumonia. The infection occurs most often in the winter and early spring, and is so common that almost all children have had the virus by age 2.

RSV spreads easily when people with the infection cough or sneeze. It also spreads through direct contact with an infected person. The virus can also live on hard surfaces — such as crib rails or door knobs — so be sure to thoroughly disinfect anything that someone with RSV touches. RSV spreads quickly in group settings, such as daycare and schools, which is what makes kids so susceptible to the virus. Testing for RSV is usually not necessary and there is no vaccine. If your child gets sick, monitor their symptoms using the Children’s Wisconsin app and contact the doctor if you have any questions or concerns. 

Learn more or schedule your child’s flu shot.