Friday, October 12, 2012

How to Prepare for the Upcoming Flu Season

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What should families expect for the 2012-2013 flu season?

I expect that the upcoming flu season will be worse than the last flu season, which was a particularly mild one. There is year to year variability in what the flu seasons are like, but there’s no reason to expect that we’ll have a similarly mild season like last year.

Are there any changes to this year’s flu shot?

Each year, the northern hemisphere's flu vaccine is reassessed based on surveys of flu strains are circulating in the southern hemisphere. This year, two new influenza strains are going to be included in this year’s flu vaccine, along with the same H1N1 strain that has been included since 2010.

Are there new recommendations for preparing for this year’s flu season?

The most important recommendation is still to get vaccinated. There have been some minor modifications to flu shot dosing recommendations. Children under eight years old should receive at least two doses of the vaccine this flu season if they have not been previously vaccinated for flu, or if they have received less than two doses of the vaccine since 2010. This year’s flu vaccine is now widely available. Flu season starts in October, so getting vaccinated as soon as possible is ideal. The biggest peak in flu cases in Massachusetts last season was in March of 2012, but this can also vary year-to-year. It’s better to get vaccinated sooner rather than later.

Besides getting a flu shot, what can parents do to prepare their kids?

You can minimize the risk of flu by practicing the following safety precautions:

  • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing and sneezing
  • Washing your hands with soap and water, or using an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.
  • If you or your child are sick with flu-like illness, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities.

If my child gets the flu, what can I do to treat it?

Rest and hydration are important. Keep your child at home, and make sure your child drinks lots of fluids. Take children to the doctor if they have trouble breathing, are not drinking enough fluids, have a rash, or if they are so unhappy that they do not want to be held or interact with you. In terms of medications, never give aspirin or medicines that contain aspirin, which can cause a serious problem called Reye syndrome. Instead, Tylenol and Motrin can be given safely to children with the flu to reduce their fevers and discomfort. In some cases, antiviral medications might be useful. These medications are different than regular antibiotics and are not available over the counter, but they should be taken if recommended by your child's pediatrician.


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