NOTE: Always consult your doctor before making the right decision about vaccinations for you and your family.
Recently, the CDC published their weekly influenza surveillance report. In it, they reveal that 84 children across the United States have died from the flu and its complications. This is rather alarming, considering that we’re only six weeks into the standard flu season - with more to come. For the last four weeks, flu-linked mortality has been well above the “epidemic” baseline - so yes, this is an epidemic and not just a “bad year”. The average flu season lasts thirteen weeks, peaking from late November to March. In the 14 years that the CDC has tracked pediatric deaths from the flu, they’ve noted that a decline in vaccinations correlates with an uptick in pediatric mortality. Moms everywhere - myself included - are freaking out.
What’s a mom to do? Keeping the kids wrapped up in a proverbial plastic bubble isn’t a realistic option. On the other hand, it seems that some basic precautions could go a long way in protecting little ones. Even disregarding mortality rates, infants and children (and pregnant women) are more susceptible to serious complications from the flu virus. So, common sense would dictate that those populations (and the elderly and immunocompromised) need a bit more thoughtful consideration before getting exposed to sick folks will-nilly.
Hand-washing is still the easiest and most effective way to stop the spread of the flu. Personally, I've avoided taking my kids into play centers, daycare centers, and stores if at all possible. I'm normally not a germophobe but I've been using those cart wipes in every store, and carrying alcohol-based hand sanitizer - which is the next best option to hand washing.
Now for science. There's a significant benefit to vaccinating against the flu. While this year's vaccine isn't crazy effective in adults, it's about 60% effective with kids. Which is great news! Three out of four flu-related pediatric deaths have been kids who didn't get vaccinated.
The mom-o-sphere has been all atwitter with a fear-mongering rampage against Tamiflu. To break it down: Kids died from the flu in Japan, but some of them also took Tamiflu before they died. Since this news came out, the FDA did a post-market review on the safety of Tamiflu. Turns out, Tamiflu isn't responsible for flu-related deaths or any sort of psychotic break in kids. Instead, it's the flu virus itself that can cause behavioral and mood changes - and death. On their part, Tamiflu manufacturer Roche included this information on the drug factsheet included with the medicine. Tamiflu cannot cure the flu - doctors currently don't have a way to cure a viral infection. However, anti-virals can shorten the severity and the duration of the flu and is especially effective within 72 hours of symptom onset.
Halfway into the flu season, kids are still at risk for serious complications. No parent wants their child to suffer - and nobody wants to deal with a sick kid. The good news is that mortality is still a fraction of a percent of those infected with the flu. While this season is shaping up to be a record-breaker in pediatric mortality and incidence, parents can take science-supported steps to keep their tiny humans healthy and happy. And hopefully - keep themselves healthy, too!