Do you know the differences between the flu and a common cold? Do you know when flu season begins and ends? (Trick question — it’s hard to predict.)
Dr. David Karas, an Akron Children’s Hospital pediatrician who has been in practice for 15 years, shares his answers to common concerns and questions parents may ask about this year’s flu vaccine.
What’s the difference between the flu and the common cold?
“The flu has much more severe symptoms like a high fever (104-105 degrees Fahrenheit), which often lasts for five days. With the flu, you feel much sicker. Flu symptoms include extreme fatigue, muscle aches and pains. People often call vomiting or diarrhea ‘the flu’ or ‘stomach flu,’ but it is unrelated.”
Why is the flu vaccine important every year?
“Influenza can often be a very significant illness — usually much more severe than the common cold.”
Why do I need to get the flu vaccine as soon as possible?
“It’s really important to get vaccinated before flu starts circulating in the community because it takes two weeks after vaccination for the body to develop sufficient immunity to the flu.”
I got a shot last year, why do I need another?
“The vaccine has three to four strains in it, which may change every year. You need the most current vaccination to protect you for the upcoming flu season.”
Why can’t doctors do better about picking the strain? I got my shot last year and still got the flu!
“Identifying the strains to put in the vaccine each year is tough. Every year, scientists need to predict which strains will be most likely to circulate, and they need to predict early enough to produce the vaccine before the fall.”
What happened to FluMist last year?
“It was very effective against three of the strains, but did not protect against H1N1 as well as was expected. FluMist is available again this year. It’s been reformulated and the data indicates the new version will be effective.”
I get sick after getting the flu shot — I think the flu shot actually gives me the flu!
“It is impossible to get influenza from the flu vaccine. The shot is a killed virus and cannot give you the flu. Now, the nasal spray is a live attenuated virus, so while it is alive, it replicates in your nose and will not be able to make you sick. This being said, vaccination does trigger an immune response which may result in one to two days of symptoms like fever and aches. If you get sick for a week after getting the flu shot, it’s likely you were already fighting a virus or had the flu before you received the shot. Remember, it takes two weeks to build immunity.”
Why does my child need a booster dose when I only get one shot?
“Children less than 2 years old are at the highest risk for being hospitalized if they contract the flu. For younger patients, a booster dose is recommended a month after the first shot to help prime the immune system. The booster ensures their body is making enough flu antibodies to fight the flu should they come into contact with the virus. In older patients, the expectation is they already have been exposed to the flu at some point, so they have some built-in immunity. Anyone getting the flu shot for the first time, ages 6 months to age 8, should receive a booster shot one month after their first vaccination. Every year after, they just need one vaccination.”
Why can’t my 5-month-old baby get a flu shot?
“Babies 6 months and younger cannot get the flu shot. However, pregnant mothers can get the flu shot and passive immunity offers protection to their unborn baby, which will remain in their baby’s system after birth.”
As a parent, I don’t get the flu shot and I’m perfectly fine. My child will be fine, too.
“Young patients and the elderly are at the highest risk for getting sick. Yet, every year healthy adults die from influenza, too. Last year over 44,000 deaths occurred (all ages) from influenza/pneumonia. (Source: CDC.gov) Ohio had 560 deaths in the 2017-18 flu season.”
I’m really healthy and fit, I can fight the flu virus the same way I fight a cold virus. I’ll just rest, take vitamin C, eat soup and drink tea — no problem.
“The flu is much worse than a regular cold. Symptoms are intense and include a high fever which lasts four to five days, headache, breathing difficulty, nausea and vomiting. The effects of the flu impact not just you, but others when you miss work or school, and put others at risk of infection.”
When I feel like I’m coming down with something, I just call my doctor and get a prescription for an antibiotic. It always works for me.
“Most respiratory illnesses are caused by viruses, not bacteria. Most infections are a virus and antibiotics will not treat it. There are antiviral medications which can mitigate the symptoms of flu if treatment is given within the first 48 hours of experiencing symptoms.”
If I get the vaccine it wears off, so I’m going to wait.
“The flu vaccine will last the whole season and you have the best chance for protection the earlier you get it. The best advice I can give as a pediatrician and parent myself is don’t get sick, wash your hands and get your flu shot every year as early as possible.”