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Influenza and Children

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Information for parents

The flu is not just a bad cold. Children often need medical care if they get the flu, especially if they are younger than five.

  • Each year about 20,000 children younger than five become sick enough from the flu to need hospital care.
  • Every year children die from the flu.
  • Severe flu-related complications are most common in children younger than two.
  • Children with chronic health problems like asthma and diabetes are at high risk of serious complications from the flu.
  • Children catch the flu at higher rates than any other age group.

Higher risk

Some children are at higher risk for serious flu-related complications.

1. Children younger than six months old.

The flu vaccine is not approved for babies younger than six months old. The best way to protect them is to make sure everyone in the household gets the flu vaccine.

2. Children younger than five.

Children six months to five years are more likely to go to a doctor or the emergency room because of the flu. To protect their health, all children six months and older should get the flu vaccine each year.

3. Children older than six months with chronic health problems like:

  • Asthma or other lung problems.
  • Immune system problems.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Heart disease.
  • Diabetes.
  • Sickle cell anemia.
  • Long-term aspirin therapy.
  • Spinal cord problems.
  • Seizure disorders.
  • Other brain problems.

4. American Indian and Alaska Native children.

These children are more at risk for flu complications. We don’t know why.

Influenza vaccination recommendations

The best way to protect children from the flu is to get the influenza vaccine each year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone older than six months of age get the flu vaccine. To learn more about this year's flu vaccine, visit the CDC's flu page.

Many studies show immune systems of children respond very well to flu vaccine.

When we vaccinate children for the flu, we can help protect everyone in the community.

Most children who are allergic to eggs can still safely get a flu vaccine. Talk to your healthcare provider or call the Communicable Disease program at (253) 798-6410.

Nasal spray flu vaccine

The nasal spray flu vaccine (FluMist) is available this season and is included in the current CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommendations.

People who have contact with children also need the flu vaccine.

  • People who live with children younger than five years old.
  • Day care providers, teachers and nannies of children younger than five years old.
  • People who have contact with children of any age who have a chronic health problem.
  • Healthcare workers.

When to get vaccinated

Children need a flu vaccine every year. Children can get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available. It is best to get the vaccine before flu starts spreading. It is not too late to get a flu vaccine later in the season.

Flu vaccine safety

The flu vaccine has an excellent safety record. Over the years, millions of Americans have received the flu vaccine.

Most common side effects are mild, like soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling at the site of the shot. Serious allergic reactions can occur, but are very rare. Vaccine safety is continually monitored. Visit the CDC for more information about vaccine safety.

What if my child has never had the flu vaccine?

Children younger than nine years old who haven’t received two doses of flu vaccine in their lifetime will need two doses this season. If possible, they should get the first dose as soon as the vaccine becomes available.

Medications to treat flu in children

Medications are available to treat children two weeks and older who get the flu and are recommended for high-risk children and those hospitalized with the flu. If possible, start treatment within two days after becoming sick.

Worrisome symptoms

If your child develops a fever or respiratory symptoms during flu season, contact their doctor right away. Don't give aspirin to children with flu-like symptoms.