Seasonal Influenza

Seasonal Influenza (flu) is a contagious viral respiratory infection. It is transmitted by coming into contact with respiratory droplets from sneezing, coughing, or contact with the virus on persons or surfaces. The severity of infection ranges from mild to severe and can result in death. There are three types of flu viruses. The most important are Influenza A and B. The seasonal flu usually peaks in February but can be very unpredictable. In 2009, a subtype of Influenza A known as H1N1 (Swine FLU) emerged much earlier during the late spring and summer season. The symptoms of both types are similar but the most important difference is that the younger population and pregnant women have been found to be more affected by H1N1. Those with H1N1 may also experience more vomiting and diarrhea.

Signs and Symptoms of Seasonal Influenza and H1N1 are:

  • Fever (can be high but not always present)
  • Cough and congestion
  • Headaches
  • Chills
  • Muscle and Body Aches
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Sorethroat
  • Vomiting/Diarrhea

The best way to protect ourselves from contracting the flu is by vaccination every year. Because Influenza viruses change from year to year, the World Health Organization makes recommendations on which strains should be included in the current vaccine based on which strains were most prominent during the previous year. Thus the 2010-2011 vaccine will include last years influenza A/H1N1, influenza A/H3N2 and influenza B. Those with the flu virus can infect others as early as one day before symptoms develop and up to one week after becoming sick. The two types of vaccines for influenza are the flu shot and the nasal spray. The flu shot is an inactivated or killed virus that is given as an injection. The nasal spray is a weakened live virus recommended now for those who are 2-49 years of age, without chronic illnesses such as Asthma and not pregnant. Well persons who care for those with a severely weakened immune system and require a protected environment should not receive the nasal spray but instead should receive the injection. The new recommendation for receiving the flu vaccine has been changed to reflect that all people 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated. Those who received the 2009 H1N1 vaccine or who had H1N1 flu should still get the 2010-2011 seasonal influenza vaccine. Specific recommendations are as follows:

  • Children 6 months to 8 years who are receiving flu vaccine for the first time should receive 2 doses
  • Children who received 1 dose of seasonal influenza vaccine in the first season they received vaccination should get 2 doses in the following flu season
  • Children 6 months to 8 years who did not get at least 1 dose of the 2009 H1N1 or whose vaccination history can’t be determined should receive 2 doses of the 2010-2011 vaccine, regardless of previous vaccination history

Unfortunately, the flu vaccine is not for everyone. It is not recommended for:

  • Those with a severe allergy to chicken eggs
  • History of a severe reaction to the influenza shot including the development of Guillian-Barre Syndrome within six months of getting the flu shot
  • Children younger than six months of age
  • Sick persons with a fever

In addition to receiving the vaccine, there are other ways to help protect yourself and others from getting the flu which include coughing into the bend of the arm instead of into the hand, avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth, staying at home if you are sick, wearing a mask and washing your hands frequently or using an alcohol based hand sanitizer.

Most healthy people should be able to fight off the flu virus without having to be treated with an antiviral medication. However, there are certain groups of people who are at an increased risk for complications and should be treated promptly such as:

  • Suspected or confirmed H1N1
  • Children younger than two years old
  • Adults older than 65
  • Pregnant women and those up to 2 weeks post-partum
  • Asthma
  • Heart Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Sickle Cell Disease
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Weakened Immune System/HIV
  • Illness requiring hospitalization
  • Progressive or severe illness even if not included in one of the above categories

Currently, the treatment of choice is Tamiflu for patients at least one year of age. Relenza is also an option for those older than seven years of age. Your pediatrician can decide the best method of treatment for your child.

For more information, please see