The Flu: What to Watch Out for

Protecting your children from the flu will be a little less painful this year. That's because, the 2010-2011 flu vaccine is the only one you need.

Unlike last year when the H1N1 (swine flu) shot was given in addition to the seasonal flu vaccine, this year's protection is all in one. The current vaccine was developed as a trivalent (three component) vaccine that includes protection against the H1N1 plus two other flu strains: influenza A H3N2 and an influenza B virus. According to scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland shortages of this year's vaccine are not expected.

Now is a good time to get vaccinated since flu season typically peaks from late November through March (though cases have been reported as late as early May).

Experts recommend that everyone over the age of 6 months receive an annual influenza vaccine but it's especially important that children under 5 receive the shot since they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications such as pneumonia. Children with asthma, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, born prematurely, or with immune problems such as HIV are considered high-risk populations as well.

Though infants 6 months and younger should not receive a flu shot, you can protect them by ensuring that all family members as well as caregivers inside or outside of your home get their shot.

According to, the official flu website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on average 5 to 20 percent of the US populations gets the flu and more than 200, 000 people are hospitalized from flu-related complications. Flu-related causes result in an average of 23,600 deaths each year.  

Cold or Flu?

The CDC lists the following symptoms that can be caused by all types of flu:

  • Fever (though not everyone with the flu will run a fever)
  • Coughing and/or sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches and/or body aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and diarrhea are also more common in children than adults.

If these symptoms last more than a week or worsen, your child likely has the flu.

Influenza is spread from person to person by direct contact, by virus particles being passed through the air (sneezing coughing, for example) so practice good hygiene. Teach your child not to cough or sneeze without covering his nose and mouth with a tissue. Encourage frequent hand washing with warm, soapy water and never allow family members to share drinking glasses, utensils or toothbrushes. Though sick kids benefit from plenty of tender loving care, avoid kissing an infected child on or around the mouth.

How to Treat

In most children, symptoms last for less than a week and benefit from extra rest, extra fluids and fever-reducing medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. (*Never give children aspirin as it is associated with Reye's Syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal illness.) Do not send your child to school if he or she has flu symptoms. Keep kids home until they feel better and they are fever-free for at least 24 hours without the aid of fever-reducing drugs. Antiviral medications may be recommended if there are complications (asthma, pneumonia, etc.) but in most cases are not necessary.

Swine Flu Update

The H1N1 virus, commonly known as the swine flu because it originated in pigs, emerged in early 2009 in the U.S. and Mexico. Because it was a new virus and there was no immunity for it, swine flu spread around the world in just 6 weeks. To date, the H1N1 virus is blamed for the deaths of 18,337 people but the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared an end to last year's flu pandemic. (WHO is a committee of experts and an agency of the United Nations established in order to make recommendations regarding the H1N1 epidemic.)

Though the H1N1 flu virus is expected to circulate again this flu season--along with other seasonal flu viruses--pandemic influenza activity remains low, according to a WHO statement released recently.


Cleveland Clinic

The Centers for Disease Control

The American Academy of Pediatricians

Johns Hopkins Pathology

Interview with leading experts: Dr. Alexandra Valsamakis (Director of Clinical Virology and Molecular Microbiology), Dr. Patricia Charache (Professor of Pathology, Medicine and Oncology), and Alicia Budd (Senior Infection Control Epidemiologist)