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If you are a parent, then you understand that the only predictable thing about raising your kids is that things change. Being prepared is the best defense for dealing with change–especially during flu season.

Parents should spend some time learning about what to expect this flu season and what has changed since last year’s outbreak so they can best protect their children and extended family members this year.

What to expect this flu season?

While the timing of flu season is largely predictable, anticipating the severity of its impact on your household and nearby community is not.

The 2017 flu season is expected to hit hard.

Health officials are able to get a sense for how severe the outbreak could be in North America by looking at clues from the Southern Hemisphere where flu season is already in full swing. Unfortunately, the data suggests that Australia and other southern countries were hit hard with a severe flu outbreak in the past few months, especially in seniors.  

Regardless of the possibility for a severe outbreak, you and your family members will have the best chances of staying healthy throughout the fall and winter by receiving flu vaccinations BEFORE the viral strain begins spreading in Omaha. The CDC says people who get flu shots have a 40 percent to 60 percent lower chance of getting seriously ill than the unvaccinated.

Early vaccinations are ideal, but don’t avoid one if you happen to forget in October.

The CDC recommends getting your flu shot before the end of October. Remember it takes about two weeks after receiving a flu shot for the antibodies to develop in the body that protect against flu. Additionally, some children may require two doses which must be administered at least four weeks apart.

In case you forget to get your family’s flu shots before the end of October, getting vaccinated in January or even later in the flu season can still be beneficial for prevention.

What’s new this flu season?

Flu season carries the potential for new viral strains to be introduced each year which is why the CDC’s recommendations for prevention and treatment may differ from what you have read before. It is up to parents and their health care providers to access this information ahead of time in order to minimize the impact and spread of the virus.

Minimum age requirements for getting vaccinated have changed.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the age requirement for receiving a Fluvial Quadrivalent shot has been changed from 3 years old and older to 6 months and older to be consistent with FDA-approved labeling.

Whether or not your child was old enough to receive a shot last year, follow the updated guidelines set forth by the CDC and vaccinate all of your children 6 months and older.

No more nasal sprays as a vaccine delivery method.

The CDC also renewed their recommendation against using nasal sprays as a delivery method for the flu vaccine. Only injectable flu shots are recommended for use again this season.

If your child is getting his or her first flu shot, reassure them that you are getting the same shot.

Remember, antiviral medications are not a substitute for an influenza vaccination. Vaccines are the best available preventative measure we have against influenza.

The cost should be close to what it was last year.

Insurance covers most flu vaccinations, often without a copayment. Out-of-pocket prices can range from $32 to $40. For more information about the cost and availability of flu vaccines, contact Nebraska Methodist Health System.

Shane Stephenson, MD

Methodist Physicians Clinic HealthWest

Dr. Shane Stephenson is a family medicine physician practicing at Methodist Physicians Clinic HealthWest. His goal is prevention and wellness for those he treats. Through his own experience as a teenager with his dad, he knows that if there is an illness that it doesn't only affect the one with the diagnosis, but the whole family is affected in different ways. He cares about the whole family of his patients and wants to be there for them. For ParentSavvy, Dr. Stephenson writes about ...

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