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What is Influenza

August 14, 2018

Influenza is a viral illness that typically occurs in the winter months.  Influenza A and B viruses cause this disease that accounts for approximately 20 000 deaths annually in the United States.  The virus spreads within a community from person to person through respiratory secretions (saliva and mucus).  Each winter new strains of the influenza virus cause epidemics in the United States.  Fortunately, a new vaccine is introduced each fall that can prevent influenza from developing.

Patients who develop influenza may experience fever, chills, sore throat, runny nose, nasal congestion, cough, body aches, headache, and fatigue.  Fever may last for 2 to 4 days.  The duration of the illness is generally 7 to 10 days, but some symptoms, particularly cough may last 2 to 3 weeks.  Rates of infection are highest among young children.  Complications include secondary infections such as middle ear infections and pneumonia.  Some high-risk patients, especially adults 65 or older, are at the greatest risk of death.

In order to prevent influenza, the vaccine must be repeated yearly because the strain changes each winter. Children less than 9 years receiving their first influenza vaccine need a booster one month after the initial injection and then yearly thereafter.  Physicians receive the new vaccine every fall depending on supplies. Patients or their families should contact their physician’s office or health department to see when they will be offering the influenza vaccine. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has recommended that all persons over age 6 months receive the influenza vaccine yearly.  Vaccination should happen before the onset of the influenza season, ideally by the end of October.  Patients do not need to worry that getting the influenza vaccine too early will not cover them through the end of the season.  Although the ACIP recommended against the use of live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV or FluMist) for the past 2 flu seasons, it has approved its use during the 2018-2019 influenza season.  An allergy to eggs is not considered a contraindication to getting the influenza vaccine. 

If you have any questions, contact your pediatrician.

Carlos Armengol, MD FAAP
Pediatric Associates of Charlottesville

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