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Influenza and Children

Everyone age 6 months or older should get an influenza (flu) vaccine every year.

Influenza, also called the flu, is . Flu is a serious illness that leads to thousands of hospitalizations, most in children younger than 5 years of age. It is estimated that an average of 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized due to flu complications each year.

Influenza (flu) should not be confused with a bad cold or “stomach flu.” Flu is a contagious viral infection of the nose and throat but is much more serious than the common cold. In mild cases, flu causes high fever, head and body aches, coughing for days, severe fatigue for up to two weeks or more. Anyone can get the flu, but infection rates are highest among children (~20-30% annually). Certain people may be at increased risk for developing influenza-related complications, including pregnant women and infants younger than 6 months of age.

Those younger than 6 months old are too young to be vaccinated against influenza, but they are at the greatest risk of hospitalization due to influenza-related complications. To create a protective “cocoon” of immunity around unvaccinated infants, parents should get older siblings, themselves, and all others who come in close contacts with the baby immunized.

Children younger than 9 years of age may require more than one dose of influenza vaccine to be fully protected. Parents and caregivers should talk to their child’s pediatrician or other healthcare professional about how many doses their child may need this season.

Certain people may be at increased risk for developing influenza-related complications, including pregnant women and infants younger than 6 months of age.

How is influenza spread?

Influenza is spread easily from person to person; when someone who has it sneezes, coughs or even talks, the virus passes into the air and can be breathed in by anyone nearby. People can also become infected by touching something–such as a surface or object–with influenza virus on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

What are the symptoms of influenza?

Influenza can come on very suddenly and usually includes a high fever with fatigue, aches, headache, cough, sore throat, a runny nose, and muscle pain. Children may have additional symptoms such as earaches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

How can individuals prevent getting influenza?

Annual vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza. The vaccine is safe and effective, and is given to tens of millions of individuals each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a three-pronged approach: influenza vaccination, use of antiviral medications for treatment or prevention, and use of other measures to decrease the spread of influenza, including hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and staying home from work and school when ill.

Who should be vaccinated?

Everyone age 6 months or older should get an influenza (flu) vaccine every year.

When should individuals get vaccinated?

Influenza usually circulates during the fall and winter each year in the United States, but it is impossible to tell exactly when activity will begin in a given area. Following vaccination, it takes about two weeks to become fully protected against influenza, so it is important to get immunized as soon as vaccine is available in your community. Getting the influenza vaccine anytime throughout the season continues to be beneficial. The immunity from vaccination continues to be protective throughout the fall, winter, and early spring.

How often do individuals need to be vaccinated?

The influenza vaccine is updated each year to protect against the viruses expected to circulate during the upcoming season. Individuals need to be vaccinated every year because the virus can change and the immune protection from the vaccine can decline over time. Most people only need one vaccine dose, but children younger than 9 years of age may need two doses of influenza vaccine to be fully protected.

Where can individuals get vaccinated?

Parents and caregivers should contact their pediatrician or other healthcare professional to request the influenza vaccine for their children, themselves, and other household contacts. Local hospitals, health clinics, and retail stores including pharmacies all offer vaccines. Some schools may hold vaccination clinics.


Additional Resources

Freddie the Flu Detective

NFID public service announcement (:30 animated video) providing information on how to detect, prevent, and treat the flu

Are You That Guy?

NFID public service announcement (:30 animated video) developed to create awareness about influenza prevention