Published: Nov. 14, 2006
Updated: Nov. 15, 2006
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By Duke Medicine News and Communications
DURHAM, N.C. -- Flu season is here, and many parents have concerns about whether to get their children vaccinated, and when. The time is now, said Dennis A. Clements, M.D., Chief of Children's Primary Care at Duke University Medical Center.
Though several batches of flu vaccine have been recalled because of potentially inadequate potency, there is currently no shortage and vaccination is the best way to protect kids against the flu and its complications, Clements said.
Children, especially those under the age of two, are more likely to be hospitalized due to complications from the flu, Clements said. These complications can include pneumonia, dehydration and ear infections. Rarely, complications from the flu can lead to death.
Flu shots are approved for use in children older than six months, and are made from inactivated flu virus, so the vaccination itself will not make a child sick. Children under eight require two shots given one month apart the first year they receive the vaccine, so Clements recommends getting children vaccinated as soon as possible if they haven't been already. The ideal months for vaccination are October and November, and flu season typically peaks in February.
"We've already seen flu this season in Charlotte, so we can only assume that we could see some flu activity in other areas of the state soon," he said.
Some parents are concerned about the presence of a preservative in flu vaccine called Thimerosal, which contains mercury. Mercury has been purportedly linked to autism and as a precaution it has been removed from all childhood vaccines. But it is still present in small quantities in multi-dose vials of influenza vaccines, which can be given to both adult and older pediatric populations.
Clements said the amount and type of mercury in flu shots is not worrisome to him, but he respects parents' rights to be concerned. A Thimerosal-free vaccine has been produced by some vaccine makers, and if parents are worried they can discuss the issue with their doctors and ask if this alternative is available at their practice. Most offices will have this preservative-free influenza vaccine available, primarily for children under three.
Influenza disease symptoms in children can be alleviated with rest, drinking fluids, using a humidifier and taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, Clements said. Children and adolescents with the flu should not take aspirin-containing products because of the risk of Reye's Syndrome, a rare and often fatal condition. Antibiotics do not help treat the flu since it is a viral -- not a bacterial -- infection. If symptoms persist or fever recurs after appearing to get better, it is important to have a physician see your child.