CDC asking parents to start scheduling flu shots for children
submited by kickingbird at Aug, 17, 2004 8:45 AM from The Associated Press - ATLANTA
Flu season may be months away, but that doesn´t mean parents should wait to schedule flu shots for their young children.
The government is preparing for the next flu season by urging parents to begin making appointments for their children to be vaccinated against the virus.
Flu shots are expected to be available in October, and health officials want children to be protected before the first influenza cases emerge. Flu season can start as early as October, although a typical season runs from mid-December to March.
"Ideally you´d want people to get vaccinated before substantial influenza activity hits" so they have time to develop antibodies to protect them from the virus, said CDC epidemiologist Dr. Carolyn Bridges.
Last October, flu activity was already going strong in Texas with other cases in Louisiana, Florida and Colorado.
Parents need to schedule flu shots early because some children will have to make another visit for a second shot. Children under 9 who have never had a flu shot need two vaccinations, given a month or more apart, Bridges said.
Health officials also are hoping to avoid a repeat of last season´s flu shot shortages, which were prompted by an early start of the flu season and fears that last year´s dominant flu strain would cause more illness than in recent years.
Although it turned out that the number of cases and deaths _ included more than 150 child deaths _ were fairly typical for a flu season, the nation´s 86-million-dose supply of flu vaccine quickly was expended and shortages popped up around the country.
This season, manufacturers have ramped up supply to 100 million doses, the most flu vaccine made in recent years. The CDC also has purchased an additional 4.5 million doses of flu shots for use as a stockpile for children.
Scheduling flu shots for children far in advance will be a big help, said Dr. William Schaffner, head of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
"Doctors this year will be especially hard-pressed to have their offices deliver the vaccine smoothly and without delays," Schaffner said. "If parents help out by making their appointments ... that will take some of the burden off of the doctors´ offices."
Influenza is caused by the influenza virus, which infects the nose, throat and lungs. It can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications in people. It kills about 36,000 people a year and hospitalizes 114,000.
Symptoms include fever, headache and muscle aches. Children often display symptoms uncommon in adults, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
This flu season the CDC has updated its flu vaccine recommendations, which will highlight the need for infants 6 months to 23 months to be vaccinated. Household contacts _ including caregivers and siblings _ of children under 2 years old also should be vaccinated, Bridges said.
Children up to 6 months old are simply too young to get a flu shot because their immune systems are still developing. Their fragile immune systems also put them at high risk of severe illness from the flu.
"The best way to protect those very young children is to vaccinate people around them," Bridges said.
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