Fall is arguably many families’ favorite time of year, ushering in fun and sports in cooler weather, comfy sweaters, tummies full of treats, and quieter times perfect for snuggling. But it’s also the time when respiratory illnesses like the flu can spike, making healthy, active families really sick. Should your family get a flu shot this year? Read on for more information.
No one wants the flu to ruin all the fun of fall, or worse yet, derail holiday traditions right around the corner. That’s why doctors across the country, including local experts from the University of Chicago Medicine and Comer Children’sare urging families to get a flu shot part of their annual fall rituallike going to the pumpkin patch to pick out the perfect orange pumpkin or planning a Thanksgiving meal with Grandma’s famous stuffing.
We talked to some experts from UChicago Medicine for tips to help you protect yourself and your children this year.
Why annual flu shots are important
It’s the age-old question many families ask: Why do we need to get another flu shot?
“We have to get vaccinated every year because the flu virus is constantly changing. Therefore, the World Health Organization updates the influenza strains in the vaccine each year to ensure that it includes inactive strains of viruses that are expected to circulate,” says Dr. Allison Bartlett, an infectious disease expert and pediatrician at chicago medicine.
While scientists are working on a universal flu vaccine, there isn’t one yet, she says. “Until then, we have to get vaccinated every year.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends flu shots for everyone older than 6 months.
You should know that it takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to be fully effective against the flu. That’s a great reason to get it in early fall to help you get through the cold months when more people gather indoors or for kids at daycare or school where respiratory illness can spread quickly through coughing or sneezing or by touching a contaminated object. surface, she says.
It’s especially important to get a flu shot as soon as possible this year so the flu doesn’t face any surge in COVID-19 cases, which could make it difficult to schedule a flu shot or even get treatment in case you or their children get the flu, says Dr. Bartlett.
“We don’t know when or if influenza will peak this year, nor do we know what impact COVID-19 will have on influenza trends. However, it is important to get vaccinated to prevent the flu,” he says.
Research shows that getting a flu shot can reduce flu illnesses by 40% to 60%. And even if someone in her family still has the flu after getting the shot, symptoms will often be milder, says Dr. Bartlett.
What parents need to know about the flu and flu shots
Despite the benefits of getting an annual flu shot, doctors acknowledge that flu shots are not without skeptics who spread myths about them.
The most important thing to know: You don’t get the flu from a flu shot, says Dr. Bartlett.
Flu shots contain an inactive form of the virus, while nasal sprays contain a weakened form of the virus, neither of which can cause the flu. The most common side effects of the vaccine are fever, headache, and redness and pain near the injection site. It’s just the body’s immune system hard at work, she says.
Anyone who’s had the flu before already knows this: The flu can make kids (and their parents) really sick and miserable for a week or more, which means they’ll miss school, activities, and work. That’s why everyone in the family older than 6 months should get a flu shot, experts say.
What to watch out for and how to prevent the flu
Signs to watch for if someone in the family has the flu: sudden fever over 100.4 degrees, chills, head and body aches, tiredness, dryness, dry cough, nasal congestion, and some may even vomit or have diarrhea, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
If they do get the flu, make sure kids get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids, says the AAP.
Dr. Alison Tothy, Pediatrician at chicago medicinesuggests that families also invest in an over-the-counter thermometer for the family and a rectal thermometer for babies to keep on hand to monitor for possible fevers this season. Parents should also keep acetaminophen (commonly known as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) on hand to treat fever in the doses recommended by their pediatrician, she says. Children should never be given aspirin when they are sick due to the dangers of Reye’s syndrome.
Another myth: the flu is just a cold. It’s not, says Tothy.
The flu can have serious and sometimes deadly consequences. When kids have the flu, watch for warning signs of an emergency, including shortness of breath or rapid breathing, blue-tinged lips, chest pain, dehydration, severe muscle pain, a fever over 104 degrees, and no be alert when awake, says the AAP. .
Dr. Tothy’s top tip for parents to keep kids healthy this fall: “Practice good handwashing, call your pediatrician to avoid unnecessary trips to the doctor, and get your flu shot!”