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Flu in Children (Childhood Influenza)

Influenza (Flu) in Children Facts

Influenza is an acute viral infection caused by any of three types of influenza viruses (A, B, or C). Type A strains are associated with the most severe disease. Many people confuse influenza or flu with the common cold. They are different. The common cold can be caused be a variety of viruses that infect the upper respiratory tract (nose, mouth, and throat). Flu is caused by a specific member of the influenza virus family and is often more severe and more dangerous than a cold, particularly for children under 5 years of age and the elderly. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 101 children died due to influenza during the 2016-2017 flu season. The viruses that cause influenza are different from those that cause gastroenteritis (often referred to as "stomach flu") which has symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Influenza usually spreads locally from person to person during flu season. This is referred to as epidemic flu. Because there is very little preexisting immunity, occasionally a very different strain emerges and spreads rapidly worldwide. This is known as pandemic flu. For example, in 2009, a new type A strain emerged called H1N1. Because there was little immunity in the human population to the H1N1 strain, it had the ability to spread easily from person to person worldwide and sicken even more people than a usual seasonal strain. In July 2009, a worldwide pandemic of H1N1 was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO). This pandemic ended in August 2010.

  • Influenza is an acute infection of the airway tract in the nose and throat that can sometimes spread into the lungs. Flu in adults is a frequent cause of acute respiratory illness. Flu, however, affects people of all ages. Children are among the groups most at risk for developing flu and its complications and are more likely to spread the infection to others.

Flu season (a sharp increase in reported cases) usually begins in late fall and early winter, and cases usually spread widely. The peak season for the flu in the northern hemisphere is from November through March, although cases can be seen all year long.

Last Reviewed 10/9/2017

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Flu Vaccine

Influenza (flu) vaccines are nasal sprays or injections currently composed either of live flu viruses that have been attenuated (rendered much less able to cause infection) or killed viruses or virus components (both are unable to reproduce) that, when administered to individuals, generate an immune response that will be strong enough to protect that individual from developing influenza disease. The design of the vaccine depends on how it is usually administered; the live attenuated vaccine is usually administered by a nasal spray, while the killed virus is usually administered by an intramuscular injection (shot), usually into the deltoid (arm) muscle; there is a vaccine also available for intradermal injection. People cannot get the flu from the injected vaccine because the vaccine contains no live virus. However, nasal sprays use attenuated viruses (meaning that the viruses are live but cannot effectively cause disease) that, in some people (immunosuppressed people), may cause mild flu-like symptoms.

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