Who needs to get a flu shot this year? Your children do | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Who needs to get a flu shot this year? Your children do

Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips

If you thought that flu shots were just for the elderly or for people with chronic diseases, think again.

This year, for the first time, federal health officials are recommending flu vaccinations for virtually all children between 6 months and 18 years of age. It’s part of a new strategy to control seasonal flu epidemics at their source, by snuffing out the virus among kids who might otherwise spread it to the rest of us. The new recommendation adds about 30 million people to the group that needs the annual vaccine.

Why the push to immunize kids this season against the flu? One reason is that school-age children have some of the highest rates of flu infection each year. By getting the vaccine, they improve their odds against missing school or causing their parents to miss work. The vaccine is most effective in preventing serious flu symptoms in young, healthy recipients. But an even better reason for immunizing kids is to dampen the spread of the virus to the whole population, young and old. There is growing evidence that when it comes to the flu, unimmunized children are the community’s germ factories.

What better hosts could a virus seek out than youngsters who don’t cover their coughs, pick their noses and rarely wash their hands? What better incubator for disease than a school or preschool where kids and germs can mix in close proximity? It’s no surprise that children often are among the first who get sick when the flu invades new territories each season. Once the children are infected, it’s only a matter of time until the bug spreads to parents, grandparents and other adults.

Consider this: ZIP codes with the most kids tend to have the highest rates of flulike illness among adults. Communities that make a special effort to vaccinate school-age children against the flu typically see significant decreases in adult infections compared with neighboring areas. All this suggests that if we can immunize more kids locally against the flu, we’ll see fewer cases among adults, including the elderly and others who are most vulnerable to influenza’s deadly effects.

The good news for kids is that their “flu shot” may not be a shot at all. Most healthy kids can avoid needles altogether by getting their flu vaccine as a nasal spray.

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The El Dorado County Public Health Department is working with the Lake Tahoe Unified School District to offer the nasal-spray flu vaccine free of charge to all elementary-school children in the district in November, as part of a program called “Kung Flu Fighters.” Parents should look for consent forms coming home from school soon.

The nasal-spray vaccine is every bit as effective as the injected vaccine but is easier for needle-shy youngsters to accept. Unfortunately, the spray is not appropriate for kids with asthma or any other chronic health conditions. Neither vaccine should be given to children with serious allergic reactions to eggs.

There is more flu vaccine available in the United States this year than ever before – more than 146 million doses. The strains included in the new vaccine so far appear to be good matches to the viruses that will begin circulating soon.

This is a good year to get your child in the habit of receiving an annual flu vaccine. And regardless of age, anyone who wants to reduce the risk of becoming ill with the flu and transmitting it to others should get vaccinated in the next couple of months.

– Jason Eberhart-Phillips, M.D., is the El Dorado County health officer. He can be reached at jeberhart-phillips@edcgov.us.