If your child is my patient, you know that I have strong feelings about the influenza vaccine. Last week I made a girl cry because I told her that I think it is dangerous for her not to get the flu vaccine. Did I feel bad? No. (Well, okay, maybe a little bit.) Why? Because it is critically important that all children and adults be vaccinated. People die from influenza. Of course, if your child comes to see me in Pulmonary Clinic, there is a good chance that they have an underlying medical problem which puts them at risk for a severe influenza infection.
Here in Boston the mayor has declared a state of emergency due to the high prevalence of influenza infections. In Massachusetts we have had 750 cases of documented influenza since flu season started in October. HALF have been documented since 12/31. As of 12/29 18 children have died in the US from influenza this season.
Our hospital is full of children and adults who are ill with influenza. The offices of primary care doctors are full as well. There are only two commonly available medications which fight or prevent influenza and there are concerns that there may be shortage in the pediatric preparation of the most commonly used medication, oseltamivir (Tamiflu.) The good news it that the vaccine this year covered about 91% of the circulating strains of influenza. It’s important to note that the vaccine is not a guarantee against infection, but vaccinated individuals will likely have a milder case if they are infected. Unfortunately, only about 37% of adults routinely receive the vaccine.
The symptoms of influenza include fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle soreness. If you or a family member are sick you are likely better served by staying at home and calling your doctor instead of going out. Symptoms to watch out for include: difficulty breathing, difficulty drinking liquids, decreased urination, and lethargy (difficulty with being woken up). Oseltamivir may shorten the course of illness by a day or two. If someone is exposure to influenza, use of this medication may prevent infection. The keystone of therapy, however, is anti-fever medications (acetaminophen or ibuprofen) and liquid intake. Aspirin should be avoided in children due to the risk of Reye syndrome.
I used to think of influenza as a glorified cold until I got it my intern year. I couldn’t get off the couch for days. To be frank, there is no good reason for children and parents not to be vaccinated unless they have contraindications to the vaccine. Most of my patients are vaccinated but many of their parents are not. (Especially dads, for some reason.)
I have seen children die from influenza and associated complications. I have not seen them die from the vaccine. Please, do the right thing and get the vaccine.
Critically important information:
You can figure out the closest place to get a vaccine using the HealthMap Vaccine Finder.
Here is some useful information from the MGH website on influenza.
Here is a ton of information from the Centers For Disease Control on the current influenza season.
Here is a nice guide for parents at Kids Health.