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Who Needs a Flu Shot?

Protect Moms, Babies, and Everyone in the Family

Fall is one of my favorite seasons with pumpkins, apple picking, pulling out cozy sweaters for a brisk walk, and drinking warm apple cider. Fall is also the time to prepare your family to fight the flu.

Every year, millions of people get the flu, several hundred thousand of them are hospitalized, and too many cases of the flu end in death. The flu vaccine can help prevent this. Last year, the flu season was the longest in a decade, lasting well into May. That means that this year, everyone who is eligible in your family should get the flu shot. According to current guidelines, that’s everyone six months and older. New and expecting parents in particular may find this daunting since they have to be concerned about their health and the health of their baby. 

What if I’m pregnant or breast-feeding? Pregnant women or those who have just given birth are at higher risk for complications if they get the flu. Pregnant women should be vaccinated no matter how far along they are in pregnancy. Babies cannot have a flu shot until six months of age. But there’s good news here: When pregnant women get a flu shot, some protection will transfer to the baby. If you are breastfeeding, it is safe to get the flu shot as well. Not only is it protection for you, but protective antibodies are transferred to breast milk adding more opportunity to help your infant thrive during flu season. 

Many parents rely on the helping hands of family and friends to care for their children. Encourage all grandparents, family members, friends, and childcare providers to get the flu shot this fall. Big brothers and sisters should also get the flu shot because the flu spreads easily at school and comes home to your baby.

How do you get the flu and what does it look like? The flu spreads through aerosolized water droplets. That means coughing, sneezing, cooing with your baby, and even talking with someone who is infected can result in getting the flu. Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, headache, muscle or body aches, runny nose, and feeling tired. When watching babies and children for signs of the flu, stay alert for fussiness and stomachaches, sometimes with vomiting and diarrhea.

Is the flu vaccine safe and effective? Yes! Flu vaccines have been administered for fifty years to millions of people. Getting the flu vaccine is the best way to prevent both getting and spreading the flu. Remember, you cannot get the flu from a flu vaccine. As with any vaccination, there can be mild side effects – like a runny nose or low-grade fever – but this is normal.

Why do we have to get the flu shot every year? The flu virus mutates frequently. The body’s immune system cannot keep up with its own protection with such a rapidly changing virus each season. The flu vaccine is updated yearly using the most current epidemiological data to help best determine the most likely flu strains of that season. This year is no exception. Since there are different flu variants every year, you need to get an updated vaccine every year.

What else can you do to protect yourself from the flu?

In addition to having a flu shot at your local pharmacy or doctor’s office, follow these guidelines of simple hygiene to help protect yourself from the flu.

1. Wash your hands with warm soapy water for twenty seconds. Remind your kids to sing the ABCs while they wash to promote good habits.

2. Cover your cough every time. Ask your child to dab with a cough or sneeze, also known as coughing and sneezing into the elbow.

3. Stay away from other sick people during flu season. Kindly ask for people who are coughing and sneezing, especially with fevers, to wait for a visit with your baby and family until their illness has passed. Visitors should be fever-free for twenty-four to forty-eight hours

Jana Shook, MD, has served kids and families as a pediatrician in the Richmond area since 2006. Her medical interests include asthma and breastfeeding. She lives in Henrico with her husband (also a Physician) and two children, and sees patients at The Pediatric Center in Richmond.
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