Did you know that the lead up to Halloween—when your mind is likely preoccupied with pumpkins, candy and costumes—is the best time to get a flu shot? Flu season arrives in November, so getting immunized early means you and your family are prepared once the sniffles start. Take this quiz to learn more facts about the flu shot.
1. What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?
a. A cold is only a cough and runny nose.
b. Flu symptoms are often more severe than a cold and may progress to more serious illness.
c. The flu is throwing up.
The “flu” is short for “influenza,” the virus that causes it. Symptoms of the flu include sudden high fever (102°F/39°C to 104°F/40°C), chills, muscle aches, runny/congested nose, sore throat, dry cough, headache and extreme fatigue. Kids may also have other symptoms such as earaches, diarrhea, throwing up and leg or back pain. Newborns may only have a high fever and no other symptoms, while the opposite is also true: Not all flu symptoms are accompanied by fever. Symptoms usually begin one to four days after being exposed to someone with the flu and usually last from a few days to a week, but some symptoms, such as coughing and tiredness, can drag on longer. People can be contagious one day before and a week or more after getting sick.
A cold can be similar to the flu, but is less likely to involve high fever, extreme tiredness, or muscle aches and is less likely to lead to serious health issues (i.e. pneumonia or bacterial infections) or hospitalization.
2. Who is most likely to get the flu?
a. young infants younger than two years
b. two to four year olds
c. five to nine year olds
d. adults 65 years and older
Kids ages five to nine years are most likely to get the flu. This is likely due to the fact that this age group is in close contact with each other at school during flu season and may be less thorough handwashers than older kids and adults. However, the risk of serious illness, hospitalization and even death are more commonly seen in infants younger than two, those with medical conditions, and adults 65 years and older. Children younger than five years of age are considered a high-risk group for significant illness, medical visits and hospitalization associated with the flu.
3. What is the best way to avoid getting the flu?
a. Stay indoors as much as possible.
b. Take Vitamin C daily.
c. Practise yoga.
d. Get the flu vaccine early and wash hands regularly.
The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get the flu vaccine early (late October when it becomes available), as it helps to build up your immune system to fight off the flu virus when flu season begins in November. Flu germs spread through direct contact (i.e. kissing), indirect contact (i.e., doorknobs, toys, utensils), and through the air (i.e., droplets from a sneeze or cough). Regular and thorough handwashing with soap and water (if soap and water are not available, using at least 60-percent alcohol-based hand sanitizer) is important.
4. At what age should kids start getting the flu vaccine?
a. six months
b. one year
c. five years
d. It is only given to adults.
The Canadian Paediatric Society encourages all children and youth six months of age and older (barring a specific medical reason) to get the flu vaccine. Any child younger than nine years old getting his very first flu shot requires two doses at least four weeks apart. Kids younger than nine who’ve had the flu shot in years past, as well as kids nine years and older, need only one dose per flu season. Talk with your doctor about whether the flu vaccine is recommended for you and your family.
5. What types of flu vaccines are available in Canada?
a. flu shot (injection) only
b. nasal spray only
c. flu shot and nasal spray
d. The nasal spray vaccine is not available in Canada.
Both the flu shot (injection into the muscle) and nasal-spray vaccine (squirted into the nose) are available in Canada. The flu shot is free for children in Canada; however, the intra-nasal-spray vaccination is only free for children in some regions. The nasal spray can be used instead of the shot (injection) in healthy children older than two years of age (whereas flu shot is safe in babies starting at six months). It’s best to discuss which option is best with your doctor. The cost is only covered in some provinces or territories, but can be purchased in those regions that do not cover the cost.
6. Can your child get a flu vaccine if they have an egg allergy or thimersol allergy or have had a previous reaction to a flu vaccine?
c. It doesn’t matter; vaccinations do not contain egg or thimerosol.
d. Consult with your doctor about an option for your specific situation.
Previously, the flu vaccination was not recommended for children with egg allergies; however, research has shown that it may be OK for many kids with egg allergies and there are specific guidelines around this.
If your child has had a reaction to any vaccination before, has had any allergic or hypersensitivity reaction or known allergy to egg (including symptoms such as rash/hives, swelling or difficulty breathing), or has an allergy to any component of the vaccine, you should discuss flu vaccine options with your doctor.
7. How long does it take for the flu vaccine to start working?
a. It starts to work immediately.
b. three to four days
c. one week
d. about two weeks
It takes about two weeks to build up your immunity (protection) against the flu virus once you’ve had the vaccine. Paediatricians encourage getting the flu vaccine early, before flu season starts, to ensure you’re protected by the time flu season arrives. Once given, the flu shot can help fight off the virus for approximately one year.
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8. Can you still get the flu if you’ve had the flu shot?
a. No, the protection is 100-percent effective.
b. Yes, it is possible.
c. Yes, it is only 50-percent effective.
d. Yes, you can get the flu from the flu vaccine.
It is still possible to get the flu even if you get the flu shot—mainly because the flu virus changes over time—however the symptoms are often lessened. The current vaccination is designed to try to match the current seasonal flu virus; however, the virus may change, making the vaccine less effective. The common myth that the flu vaccine causes the flu is false—the vaccine does not cause the flu.
Tip: Even if you think you or your child has had the flu, it’s still worthwhile to get the shot as it may protect from a different strain of the virus.
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9. Is the vaccine considered safe?
a. Yes, but there may be some side effects.
b. Yes, but the side effects are worse than the flu.
c. No, the vaccine is unsafe.
Overall, the risk and impact of the side effects of flu vaccination is considered less worrisome than the risk of serious illness or even death resulting from the flu. Side effects associated with the flu shot generally include redness, soreness and/or swelling at the site of the shot. The side effects of the easier, less invasive nasal-spray vaccine may last one to four days and may include mild-to-moderate stuffy/runny nose, cough, wheezing, fever, headache, muscle ache, decreased appetite, tummy pain or occasional vomiting or diarrhea.
Tip: All kids should stay in the clinic for at least 15 minutes after any vaccination to observe for signs of allergic reaction.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is meant to provide general information and is not meant to be used as individual medical advice. All individuals should consult with their doctor and seek individual medical advice regarding the information in this article. Further guidelines and recommendations may change over time and for each flu season or for your specific region. Therefore, it is vital to consult with your doctor regarding the specific recommendations for you and your child(ren).
Joelene Huber is a paediatrician and assistant professor of paediatrics at the University of Toronto and is affiliated with St. Michael’s Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children, specializing in development and autism spectrum disorders. She appears regularly on TV and is a mom to two small children. Follow her on Twitter at @DrJoeleneHuber.