With autumn right around the corner, flu season is lurking around the bend. Now is a good time to make plans to protect your family from the flu.
A recent report by pediatricians has made recommendations for prevention of flu this season. The report focuses on the importance of getting the flu vaccine and reviews the vaccines available.
There will be two new types of flu vaccines available this year. One will cover four different strains of the flu, more than any previous vaccines. Another is made without eggs, making it appropriate for those with egg allergies.
This report, authored by the Committee on Infectious Diseases led by Michael T. Brady, MD, updated recommendations for preventing and treating influenza for the 2013-2014 flu season.
The researchers primary recommendation for prevention is ensuring that everyone, including teens and children over 6 months old, get the annual flu vaccine.
During the 2012-2013 flu season, 154 children died from lab-confirmed flu. Most of these children had not been vaccinated against the flu.
"Among children hospitalized with influenza and for whom medical chart data were available, approximately 44 percent did not have any recorded underlying condition, whereas 23 percent had underlying asthma or reactive airway disease," the report noted.
Children who are at higher risk for complications of the flu should especially be sure to get the vaccine, the report stated. This includes children who were born preterm and children with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, immunosuppression, developmental or neurological disorders or heart disease.
"Children younger than 2 years are at an increased risk of hospitalization and complications attributable to influenza," the report stated. "School-age children bear a large influenza disease burden and have a significantly higher chance of seeking influenza-related medical care compared with healthy adults."
All household members of families with children under 5 years old — especially babies under 6 months old — should be sure to get the vaccine as well, the authors of the report recommended.
"In the United States, more than two-thirds of children younger than 6 years and almost all children 6 years and older spend significant time in child care and school settings outside the home," the report noted. "Exposure to groups of children increases the risk of contracting infectious diseases."
During the 2013-2014 season, two types of flu vaccines will be available.
The trivalent vaccine protects against three strains of the flu virus, and the quadrivalent vaccine protects against four strains of the flu virus.
In addition, two new trivalent vaccines will be available that do not use eggs in manufacturing and are therefore appropriate for individuals with egg allergies.
The injectable vaccines are "inactivated" vaccines, which means there is no live virus in the vaccines.
The most common side effects after this vaccine are pain and tenderness at the injection site.
About 10 to 35 percent of children under age 2 may develop a mild fever within a day of receiving the vaccine, but fevers in older children and adults are rare.
Other possible but less common side effects include nausea, tiredness, headache, muscle aches and chills.
The nasal spray vaccine, available only as a quadrivalent vaccine, will be a "live-attenuated" virus vaccine, which means it contains a live virus that has been weakened.
The nasal spray vaccine is not recommended for children under age 2 and those who have underlying medical conditions or a history of wheezing.
It is also not recommended for children with a current fever, who are taking aspirin or who have had another live vaccine within the previous month.
Pregnant women or women attempting to conceive should also not receive the live-virus flu vaccine.
The recommended medication to treat influenza, the report noted, is oseltamivir, which goes by the brand name Tamiflu.
An alternative medication is zanamivir, which goes by the brand name Relenza.
The report was published September 2 in the journal Pediatrics. The report was internally funded. No conflicts of interest were noted.