As families get ready for the holiday season, what may not be at the top of your mind is taking steps to prepare for flu season. Flue season is unpredictable and can vary from season to season.
I recently interviewed Dr. Mary Dundon, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, to learn more about tips to stay healthy this flu season.
Q. When is the best time to get the flu vaccine?
A. We had this old idea that we should wait until mid-October to get vaccinated, but the fu can come as early as October or as late as March. The best tie to get vaccinated is as soon as the flu vaccine is available. At times, we have it as early as August now. The other myth is that it won't last through the season if you get it to early, but that's not so. You can get it in August and it will last all the way through the season until April or May.
Q. It seams like flu season sneaks up on us each year. What makes flu season so unpredictable?
A. Flu is a very special virus; it's an unstable virus, which makes it mutate constantly. And there are different types of flus, there are flu As and flu Bs. That's very different than most of our viruses. Like chicken pox is a virus that's been around for thousands of years; it hasn't changed. And once you're immune to it, you're immune for life. But the flu is evolving and changing, and depending on its changes, it can be a more aggressive virus that none of us have seen so we have no antibodies to it.
It can be one that spreads better, can be more communicable than another, so we get different types, we get some that are more aggressive, we get some that flus come early in the year, some that come late, and we can have more than one flu virus circulate in a given season.
Flu is a moving target for the health community, but we keep evolving with our vaccines. Now flu vaccine is quadrivalent, so they are covering four types of flu instead three, trying to get this moving target trying target as much protection as we can.
Q. Why is it important to protect against the flu?
A. You know, people are so scared about Ebola and Interovirus D68 that I hear all the tine on the news, but flu is the most likely infectious disease to get you in the United States. And it does. Flu hospitalizes 200,000 people every year; 20,000 of them are children less than 5.
Q, Who should be getting the flu vaccine?
A. Everybody should be vaccinated because the way you protect vulnerable people from the flu is not to expose them. You don’t want to bring flu into your home and expose your family. Those at the highest risk are young people (babies and toddlers), the elderly, those with asthma, those with chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, lung disease. The way we protect vulnerable people is by vaccinating all of us so is doesn't spread, we don't become a contact that gives it to someone.
Q. What are the available flu vaccine options this season?
A. What I'm really excited about is that I've partnered with AstraZenaca to raise awareness that you have options. We have the traditional flu shot; we've had that forever for 6 months of age and older. But we also have a nasal mist that's been around for about 10 years. It's available for people ages 2 years of age to 49 years, so not just children,. This year the CDC has stated that the flu mist is superior for children 2-8. For children 2-8 the mist protects better than shot, which is wonderful news for families; you can have your child vaccinated without the tears and screaming and actually have better protection.
Q. You mentioned before some of the myths and misconceptions about the flu. What are some of the most important myths that need debunking?
A. One is that the flu vaccine is going to make you sick: it’s just not true. It’s been studied very carefully. Injection can make soreness is the arm anytime you inject in a muscle that happens. The mist can cause runny nose for a day or two, wherase the flu is a seriousness illness that can hospitalize you. At its mildest, it can take a week away from work or a week away from your child's school and sports. Being down for a week is hard—and that's at its mildest case. It also has the potential to send you to the hospital.
It's so important for families to not listen to the myths that the vaccine will make you sick. You need to recgnize that the disease makes you sick, and you need to be vaccinated to protect yourself , you loved ones, and those around you
You can learn more about flu facts at A Family's Guide to Flue Season on Facebook.
About Mary Catherine Dundon, M.D.
Dr. Dundon has been in the private practice of general pediatrics for 32 years on the north side of Nashville, Tennessee. She is an Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, which involves teaching medical students and residents in her office.
Dundon is a site investigator conducting vaccine research through her office for Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and Dr. Kathryn Edwards, a pediatric infectious disease specialist. Studies have included acellular pertussis vaccines, influenza vaccines (live and trivalent inactivated), combination vaccines, and a meningococcal vaccine for infants. She served as a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and also for 8 years as the Public Relations Chairperson of the Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Editor of the organization’s newsletter.
Dundon has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1992 as an advocate for positive discipline of children. For over 10 years, has been a monthly guest on Talk of the Town, a local television talk show on the CBS affiliate in Nashville, Tennessee, answering call-in questions from the public.
Interview courtesy: MedImmune Specialty Care division of AstraZeneca.