Family Matters

Who’s Afraid of the Flu? Not Moms

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In a typical flu season, up to 150 U.S. children die; last year’s numbers were even worse: the swine flu pandemic killed 1,100 kids. Still, one-third of U.S. moms don’t plan to get their children a flu shot this season, according to a survey by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID).

Paul Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, is a vaccine (pardon the pun) booster. He’s even helped invent a new one, for rotavirus, which can cause severe diarrhea and affects nearly all children, everywhere in the world, by the time they turn 5. But even Offit is trying to put a positive spin on the NFID data. (More on How Not to Get Sick)

“I choose to look at this positively,” he says. “Two-thirds of mothers plan to vaccinate their kids. That’s good.”

To Offit’s way of thinking, choosing not to vaccinate is akin to playing Russian roulette with your progeny. “One can argue you’re playing with a million empty chambers, but do you want to take that choice?”

Deaths aside, tens of thousands of children are hospitalized each year due to influenza. The main complications from flu shots involve soreness at the injection site and pain or redness. The most serious complications from not getting them? Those deaths we mentioned above, which automatically catapult the parents of those children into unwanted membership in Families Fighting Flu, a non-profit made up of relatives and health care workers who’ve experienced first-hand the death or serious illness of a child with flu. Some of the personal stories shared online, like that of 3 ½-year-old Emily Lastinger, are chilling in the way they relate how a run-of-the-mill sick child can so quickly go downhill; many of the narratives indicate the child who died — as in Emily’s case — had not been vaccinated. (More on The ‘Mommy Brain’ Is Bigger: How Love Grows a New Mother’s Brain)

“You never think it’s going to happen to you, and the odds are it’s not going to happen to you,” says Offit. “The question is, do you want to take that risk?”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone over the age of 6 months get a flu shot. This year’s vaccine incorporates three strains of influenza, including H1N1, which was responsible for the uptick in deaths last flu season.

The NFID survey, which questioned more than 600 mothers of kids ages 6 to 18, revealed that 80% of mothers said their attitude toward vaccination was not swayed by last year’s H1N1 scare.

In a separate survey by the NFID, 43% of Americans said they don’t intend to get immunized. Most attributed their decision to their belief that there are other ways to dodge the flu; about half said they feared the vaccine was harmful. (More on The Battle for Global Health)

It may not be harmful, but as anyone who has gotten the shot knows, it can make for a pretty sore arm. For the injection-averse, there’s always nasal FluMist, which my kids and I got last week. It’s way easier than the shot, unless you’re 3 and terrified of having things shoved up your nose. After being restrained by her older brother and me, then plied with stickers and candy, my 3-year-old stopped wailing to note: “It’s not so bad…just sniff, sticker, lollipop, leave!”

Her comment made us laugh, but there’s admittedly not much in the way of obvious comic relief when it comes to the flu. Still, the folks at the Childhood Influenza Immunization Coalition must be an inherently humorous bunch, which is why they’ve produced “Flu Funnies,” short clips they’ve posted on YouTube to “show some of the extreme measures parents might take to protect their children from seasonal influenza, and how easy a simple vaccination is in comparison.” My fave? The ditzy mom who outfits her son — and herself — in self-contained moonsuits to avoid catching the flu on the playground.

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