The best way to prevent flu is to have the yearly flu vaccine. Each year, a new flu vaccine is available before the flu season starts. Flu shots and nasal spray are available. Talk with your health care provider if you have questions about how vaccines work and how well they prevent flu.
The flu vaccine is most often given as a shot into the muscle. For babies and young children, it's given as a shot in the thigh muscle. In older children, it's given as a shot in the upper arm muscle. It's also available as a nasal spray for healthy children over the age of 2, including teens who are not pregnant. Check with your child’s health care provider to see which is the best choice for your child.
The first time a child between the ages of 6 months and 8 years gets a flu vaccine, they will need a second flu vaccine one month later. This is to build up protection against the flu. Get your child’s first dose as soon as the vaccine is available. This allows the second dose to be given by the end of October. This will give your child the best protection for the flu season. After the first flu season, your child will need only one dose.
The vaccine is advised for all children 6 months and older. But for some children, it’s more critical for them to get a flu shot because they are more likely to have complications from the flu. The flu shot should be given to any child who has any of these:
- A long-term heart or lung condition
- An endocrine disorder such as diabetes
- A kidney or liver disorder
- Weak immune system from HIV/AIDS, long-term steroids or other immune-suppressing medicines
- A blood disorder such as sickle cell disease
A flu shot should also be given to:
- A child who has a family member with a long-term (chronic) health condition
- A child or teen taking aspirin as long-term therapy
- A child with parents or caregivers at high risk of complications from the flu
Some side effects of the vaccine can seem like mild flu symptoms. But the vaccine doesn't cause the flu. Side effects can be prevented by taking over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen. Never give your child aspirin without talking to your child's health care provider first. Possible side effects of the flu vaccine include:
- Soreness in the arm where the shot was given
- Short-term symptoms such as mild headache or a low-grade fever for about one day after the shot
- In rare cases, an allergic reaction in a child who has a severe allergy to eggs. Vaccines are available for those with an egg allergy.
In addition to the flu vaccine, you can do other things to help reduce your child’s risk of getting the flu. You can also:
- Limit your child’s contact with infected people, if possible.
- Have your child wash their hands often
And you can help prevent your child spreading the flu to others if you:
- Have your child cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Use a tissue or cough or sneeze in the crook of the arm.
- Wash your hands before and after caring for your child.
- Clean surfaces in the home that others may touch.