With the return to in-person activities and mask mandates largely dropped, it’s projected to be a rough flu season. Getting the flu vaccine for your kids (and you!) is the best way to prevent illness. We asked Brittany Dee Mueller, MD, an internal medicine physician at Atlantic Medical Group Primary Care at Westfield, and Eberechi Nwaobasi-Iwuh, MD, FAAP, pediatric infectious diseases consultant and director of the division of pediatric hospital medicine for Hersh Children’s Center at Atlantic Health System’s Overlook Medical Center and Goryeb Children’s Hospital in Morristown, for tips to keep your family healthy this season as we likely return to pre-COVID levels of flu.
New Jersey Family: What is the flu and why might it be rougher this year?
Dr. Mueller: Flu is a viral illness that comes around every year, with slight variations from year to year. We try to look at data to see which flu strains will be prevalent. We get clues from the southern hemisphere. It’s not surprising that this year in Australia we saw higher numbers. And now that people aren’t masking, it could mean an increase in flu cases.
NJF: How serious is the flu?
Dr. Mueller: Children can get very sick from the flu so we recommend most kids get the flu vaccine if they are eligible. Most children 6 months or older can get the flu vaccine.
NJF: How can we tell the difference between the flu and COVID?
Dr. Mueller: COVID and flu are both viral illnesses so many symptoms can overlap. With COVID we see a lot more sore throats. If someone has a sore throat, we consider testing for COVID and strep. Achiness or feeling run down could be flu or COVID.
NJF: How can we prevent the spread of flu?
Dr. Mueller: Ways to prevent the flu include washing hands, staying home when sick and wearing masks in crowded spaces.
NJF: When should we get the flu vaccine?
Dr. Nwaobasi-Iwuh: For the flu you want to get vaccinated early in the season so now is the time.
NJF: Can you still get the flu after the flu vaccine?
Dr. Nwaobasi-Iwuh: The flu vaccine is very effective at preventing infection in most people, if it doesn’t prevent you from getting the flu it will still minimize symptoms.
NJF: What are some misconceptions about the flu vaccine?
Dr. Nwaobasi-Iwuh: Misconceptions about the flu vaccine include that you can get the flu from the vaccine, which isn’t true. Parents may be apprehensive about getting kids the vaccine because they don’t know how the child will react to it. But the flu is not a completely benign virus. It does kill children each year. They can get complications like myocarditis or encephalitis. I reinforce that the vaccine is tested and it’s well known. They change the strains based on what’s circulating that year but the components are very consistent. There’s always a chance of side effects but when you weigh the risks I advocate for getting the vaccine.
NJF: Should parents get the flu vaccine?
Dr. Nwaobasi-Iwuh: Parents should definitely get it as well. Kids may get the flu at school and bring it home to parents and then the whole house has it.