The influenza (flu) season is officially here. This is the earliest the flu has hit Texas since 2003-2004 when we witnessed a severe epidemic, more than 150 deaths in children and a flu vaccine shortage. An early beginning to the flu seasons and the presence of the influenza H3N2 virus typically signal a bad flu season ahead.
But it’s not too late to get yourself and your family vaccinated. Since it takes about 2 weeks after receiving your flu vaccine to develop the antibodies that protect you and your children against this serious infection, the time to get vaccinated is now.
Many still do not understand just how important getting influenza vaccine is, especially for pregnant women and young children.
The flu can put a woman at increased health risk during pregnancy, due to poor lung capacity and perhaps altered immunity. More importantly, a pregnant woman who gets vaccinated not only protects herself, but also her baby. So women who are expecting should be vaccinated.
Younger children are more susceptible to influenza than older children. Infants less than 6 months old have an immature immune system and cannot receive the vaccine. The only way to protect these babies is to make sure everyone around them has received the vaccine. That’s another reason for parents of young children to make sure they and other family members are vaccinated as well.
Children under age 2 years are more likely to develop influenza complications that put them in the hospital than are older children, adolescents and adults. Each year, 10% to 40% of children catch the flu. Children under 2 years are hospitalized for complications of influenza at the same frequency as the elderly. And those between ages 2 years and 5 years have more visits to the doctor and medications during influenza season. It’s not too late to get these children vaccinated either.
Let’s spread good tidings and cheer this holiday season, not the flu. Don’t let anyone in your family suffer from this serious and preventable infection — get vaccinated this week. You can go online to find the nearest place to get the flu vaccine. Or you can contact your Texas Children’s Pediatrics office to schedule an appointment.
To learn more, read my full Op-Ed piece about the importance of flu vaccine on the Houston Chronicle’s web site.