Oh, That Stinkin’ Flu

Dear Mamas,

We have 3 children; 1-year-old twin girls and a 3-year-old son. Our son has asthma that was diagnosed last year. We’ve been warned by his pediatrician that he needs to get the flu shot since the asthma puts him at greater risk, even though he’s well controlled and hasn’t had a flare up since diagnosis.

My question is about the twins: can they get the shot too? Should they? They’re not really exposed to many other children, but we do drag them around with us everywhere.  I’m not sure which way to go — we don’t want them to get the vaccine if it’s unnecessary, but we don’t want them to get the flu either. Can you give us some guidelines?


Dear Terra,

You’re right to be concerned about your older guy. Children who have chronic conditions like asthma are at higher risk of suffering complications when they get the flu. It helps that he’s well controlled and it’s better to be safe than sorry, so make sure he gets that vaccine!

Before I address your question about the twins, let me explain some general info about the flu …

First let’s define our terms: Flu refers to influenza, the respiratory illness (not to be confused with the tummy flu which isn’t really the flu) caused by one of several sub-types of virus, all in the influenza family. This is an important point, because a viral illness will NOT respond to antibiotics. The flu virus laughs at antibiotics.

How do you know if your child has the flu? The symptoms of flu in children are more severe than those of a cold. Symptoms start abruptly and usually cause kids to feel the worst during the first two or three days. Flu symptoms in children include high fever up to 104 with chills, severe fatigue, headache and body aches, cough, sore throat, belly pain and vomiting.

How can you prevent the flu? The #1 way to prevent the flu is with the flu vaccine, which protects by introducing a small, harmless portion of viral protein that tricks the immune system into thinking you have the flu. The immune system gears up and sends out millions of antibody “soldiers” that prevent the virus from attacking the respiratory system if you are exposed. Children over 2 can often be given the nasal mist form and avoid an injection.

Flu is extremely contagious, so it’s difficult to avoid exposure during flu season, which typically runs from October thru March. The best defense is to stop flu in its tracks with the vaccine.

That said, you can avoid contact with people who have symptoms that look like the flu and wash hands often to prevent spread during those months.

What are main methods of spread? Flu is spread when a child either inhales infected droplets (coughed up or sneezed by an infected person) or comes in direct contact with infected secretions. Children are contagious one day before onset of symptoms and 5-7 days after. Contact happens when they share toys or materials at school or play computer games together, etc.

Since antibiotics don’t work, what’s the best way to treat the flu? Anti-viral medicines may help when high-risk patients get sick, but home remedies and over-the-counter comfort measures work best. Tylenol or ibuprofen for fever and aches (NOT aspirin), and chicken soup to shorten the duration and provide fluids and electrolytes – I’m not kidding about the chicken soup, it’s been proven.

Can the flu be serious? Occasionally the flu can be life threatening. Seek emergency medical attention if your child has difficulty breathing, skin color appears bluish or gray, is not responding normally or seems disoriented, can not hold down fluids or shows signs of dehydration, OR if your mommy gut tells you something is seriously wrong … always trust your mommy gut!

Now for the twins: The Centers for Disease Control recommends that all infants and children over 6 months get the vaccine. The very young (infants and toddlers) are at increased risk of complications, just like your little guy with asthma. On top of that they could introduce the flu into your household and be yucky sick for a week or so. Who needs that?

So be sure and make an appointment for all three of your littles, plus your husband and yourself, and fingers crossed your family will fly through flu season without a sneeze or cough.

~ The Mamas



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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.

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