Posted Oct. 28, 2008 – As the cold and flu season get underway, health officials advise children and adults with asthma to get their flu shots. That's because asthma increases the risk for serious lung and airway infections in asthmatics that can land them in the hospital or worse.
“Asthma, which is much more common in urban areas, makes children more susceptible to complications from the flu,” says Dr. Tyra Bryant-Stephens, founder and medical director of the Community Asthma Prevention Program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a partner of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC).
“The flu vaccine is the single best way to protect against the flu and it potential complications,” she said. “It is safe and effective and cannot give you the flu.”
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Each year, about 20,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized due to flu, according to the CDC. Most of them, but a small number die each year from flu-related complications. Last season, 83 deaths children died from the flu and 92 percent of them had not been vaccinate, according to federal figures. Every death in a child from flu is a tragedy, especially when there is a vaccine to help prevent it, Bryant Stephens says.
The flu – a contagious respiratory illness – can cause high fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches and an stomach problems, including vomiting, and diarrhea, which are more common in children than adults.
Because infants younger than 6 months are too young for vaccination, the CDC recommends protecting them by having every member of the household and all of the infant’s caregivers vaccinated.
A second dose of flu vaccine is required for children ages six months through 8 years who are getting vaccinated for the first time. The second dose must be given four or more weeks after the first dose.
Because the type of flu that goes around each year is changes, a new flu vaccine is made each year to fight the flu, which is why it is important to get a flu vaccine every year.
Flu vaccine shortages have plagued health officials nationwide in the past, but more doses of vaccine are expected this season than ever before, Dr. Bryant-Stephens says, adding that children should get vaccinated now for the best protection since it takes about two weeks for the body to build immunity to the flu after vaccination.
“But if you don’t get your flu vaccine early, vaccination in December and beyond can still provide protection against influenza,” said Bryant-Stephens. This is because the flu season usually peaks in February and can last as late as May, she says.
Two types of vaccine are available: a flu injection and a nasal spray (usually recommended for non-pregnant individuals two to 49 years old). Check with your health care provider to find out which type is best for you and members of your family.
Not everyone can afford a flu vaccine, but there is help. Kanowitz's Families Fighting Flu – a group started by a New York lawyer whose unvaccinated and otherwise healthy 4-year-old daughter died from flu complications – launched the "sayboototheflu!" campaign, which offers to vaccinate the whole family at events in cities around the country before Halloween.
The Parent Teacher Association's "Let's Fight Flu Together (flubusters)!" program, in which local PTAs can schedule a shot clinic at school, also offers flu vaccines, with parents paying $30 per vaccination. Some health plans also cover the cost of flu shots, but not all.
To learn when or where to get a flu vaccine, contact your doctor or local health department. For more information about the flu, call CDC at 1-800-CDC-INFO or visit cdc.gov/flu.