The influenza vaccine (also called the flu vaccine) is an effective way to reduce both the complications and severity of the flu. The flu is caused by a virus, which affects the nose, throat, and trachea/bronchi (these are the tubes that connect the mouth to the lungs). The typical symptoms include fever, stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, and hacking cough. Sometimes the symptoms may include muscle pain, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue. The flu is typically seen between December and April. The strains of the flu in the community are slightly different than the previous year. Thus, people can have the flu many times in their lifetime. Since there are different strains of the flu in the community each year, a new vaccine has to be developed every year. The flu vaccine contains killed virus particles (inactivated).
There are certain children with health problems who have an increased risk of having complications from the flu. In order to reduce this risk, it is recommended that they (and everyone in their household) receive the vaccine every year. These children include those with:
- Lung disease (including asthma, reactive airway disease, recurrent bronchitis or pneumonia, cystic fibrosis)
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Metabolic disorders
- Blood diseases (including sickle cell disease)
- Immune problems
- If on long term aspirin therapy (such as for arthritis or Kawasaki disease)
The vaccine should be given every fall. It consists of a single shot unless your child is young and receiving his/her first flu vaccine. In this case, two doses are given one month apart. The vaccine requires at least 2 weeks before it provides protection against the flu. Even with the vaccine, it is possible to get the flu, but it will be a more mild case. The vaccine does not provide protection from the many other viruses present during the winter which cause the common cold.