Flu Shots Vital for Families with Young Children

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The flu affects millions each year in the United States, leading to thousands of hospitalizations and, in some cases, death.

And among those affected, children and infants are most vulnerable to the flu’s most severe complications.

Luckily, getting a flu shot not only helps protect yourself from the influenza virus but also those most as risk, according to Chelsea Gianna, a Mon Health Wedgewood Primary Care nurse practitioner.

“The benefits of a healthy person getting a flu shot extend to the most vulnerable among us in our communities,” said Chelsea. “This includes newborns and those with compromised immune systems such as someone receiving chemo treatments or babies with congenital defects.”

Chelsea adds that another perk of getting vaccinated often means not feeling as sick if you do catch the flu virus.

“Those who choose to get vaccinated and still catch the flu often experience milder symptoms/infection, and they don’t spread the illness as rapidly as those who do not get vaccinated,” said Chelsea.

Children under 5, and especially those under 2 years of age, are most vulnerable to severe flu-related complications.

Babies younger than 6 months are at the highest risk, because they are unable to get flu vaccinations and their immune systems are underdeveloped.

The best way to protect them, according to Chelsea, is for families and loved ones get their flu shots and to prevent the spread of germs by washing hands prior to coming into contact with an infant.

And as tempting as it may be, she adds, don’t kiss the baby.

“Please don’t kiss the babies, especially newborns. Babies are born with immature immune systems making them susceptible to viral and bacterial infections that could quickly escalate into life threatening conditions,” said Chelsea. “Spreading can occur by touching something with the virus on it or through bodily contact.”

The flu becomes severe— and in some cases, deadly—when secondary symptoms attack the body’s already weakened immune system. In addition to typical flu symptoms like fever, body aches, chills and cough, the CDC lists dangerous symptoms that can appear if the flu is not prevented and/or treated promptly. These include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Dehydration
  • Worsening of pre-existing, chronic medical problems like heart disease or asthma
  • Brain dysfunction such as encephalopathy (brain disease, damage or malfunction)
  • Sinus problems
  • Ear infections

The best time to get the flu vaccine is right now

“If you can, get the vaccine before the flu spreads in your community—preferably before the end of October,” said Chelsea. “The vaccine is usually offered through January, so getting it later is still beneficial and better than not getting it at all.”

In addition to getting a flu vaccine, you can take preventative actions such as:

  • Staying away from sick people
  • Parents with infants/newborns and those with compromised immune systems should try to avoid large crowds and shopping centers, as these increase the likelihood of coming into contact with life threatening viruses
  • Frequently washing and/or sanitizing your hands
  • Staying home from work and/or school if you’ve had flu symptoms
  • Talk to your doctor about antiviral drugs available to treat early flu symptoms

To get a flu shot, reach out to your doctor or visit a local health department, pharmacy or community center to see if vaccines are being offered in your area.

Call 304-599-9400 to schedule an appointment at Mon Health Wedgewood Primary Care.