Last flu season, more than 100 children in the U.S. died of the flu, and thousands more were hospitalized for severe illness.
More than half -- 54 percent -- of the children who died did not have any underlying chronic conditions that make them more vulnerable; they were healthy kids.
That's why pediatricians recommend all children ages 6 months and older get an annual flu shot.
"Getting a flu shot as soon as the vaccine is available in your community should be on every parent's checklist, along with other back-to-school routines," said pediatrician Flor Munoz, who authored the updated influenza prevention recommendations issued today by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"We know that the flu should not be taken lightly," Dr. Munoz said. "Everyone in the household, including pregnant women, grandparents, and child care providers, should be vaccinated to help prevent its spread."
Historically, more than 80 percent of children who died of influenza were not vaccinated. The annual flu vaccine significantly reduces a child's risk of severe influenza and death.
The AAP recommends children be immunized against influenza by the end of October, if possible. Some kids may need two doses. If your child is 8 years or younger and has never received a flu vaccine before, they will need two doses and should receive their first dose early in the season for optimal protection.
Since the nasal flu vaccine has not worked as well as the flu shot in recent flu seasons, both the AAP and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not recommend it this year.
While doctors recommend the flu shot for everyone, it's especially important for certain groups of people, including:
• Children who have conditions that increase their risk of complications of flu. This includes infants born preterm and those with chronic medical conditions, including asthma and other chronic lung diseases, heart disease, diabetes and other metabolic problems, and weakened immune systems, among others.
• Women who are pregnant, considering pregnancy or are in the postpartum period or are breast-feeding during the flu season.
• All health care personnel, child care providers and staff also should receive an annual flu shot because they often care for individuals at high risk for influenza-related complications.
For the 2017-2018 flu season, both a trivalent and quadrivalent form of the vaccine are available. The trivalent vaccine protects against two strains of influenza A and one strain of influenza B; the quadrivalent vaccine protects against an additional strain of influenza B. The influenza vaccine is given by injection into the muscle and is inactivated, meaning it does not contain a live flu virus and cannot cause the flu.
"Vaccination is the best available preventive measure we have against influenza." said pediatrician Henry Bernstein, co-author of the AAP recommendations.
Influenza can spread rapidly through communities. When someone with the virus sneezes or coughs, flu virus gets into the air, and people nearby can inhale it. The virus can also be spread when a person touches a door handle or other hard surface. When there is an outbreak, the illness tends to be most pronounced in preschool or school-aged children.
If your child becomes sick with influenza, he or she can feel ill for a week or more. Symptoms include a sudden fever, chills and body aches, headache, tiredness, sore throat, cough and runny nose. If you suspect your child may have the flu, call your pediatrician. In some cases, antiviral medications can help.
"The best results are seen when treatment is started within 48 hours of symptom onset," Dr. Bernstein said.
• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of the American Academy of Pediatrics in Elk Grove Village. For more information, visit healthychildrne.org.