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Monday, March 19, 2018

Flu shots or nasal spray? Local pediatricians weigh in on CDC report

Flu shots are more effective than flu nasal sprays, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Photo by iStock.com

Flu shots are more effective than flu nasal sprays for preventing influenza, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Photo by iStock.com

If you have young kids, you’re probably familiar with the flu intranasal spray that takes needles out of the equation. It can make a visit to the pediatrician for flu protection a tear-free experience with little ones.

However, a new recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the flu nasal spray is not as effective as a traditional flu shot and should not be used for the upcoming 2016-17 flu season.

We asked two local doctors with children of their own about the recommendation: Dr. Sara Bode, a pediatrician in the Department of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and Dr. Alan Hartsook, pediatrician at West Valley Pediatrics in Avondale.

Hartsook says the flu season in Arizona typically begins around October and extends through May.

“We were still seeing some flu cases this past year into June,” he says, adding travel and exposure to different strains may extend the dates.

When asked if they think all children should be vaccinated against the flu, both pediatricians answered with a strong “Yes!”

Flu shot is preferred

“The flu vaccine is the best protection against the flu for children, and being immunized annually significantly reduces the risk of hospitalization and death due to the flu,” Hartsook says.

Both doctors say the flu vaccine can given to children as young as 6 months, and it is recommended for all children. Bode and Hartsook also favor the flu shot over the nasal spray for varying reasons.

“Recent evidence from the CDC has shown that the nasal spray has not been as effective as the shot,” Bode explains. “This evidence [comes from] studies from 2013-16. As a result, we are only recommending the flu vaccine this season to ensure that all children are protected.”

Hartsook says the majority of parents he deals with in his practice prefer the flu shot for their children.

“I have preferred using the flu shot,” Hartsook says. “We have not offered the flu nasal spray in our office, primarily because our patients often prefer the flu shot.”

Why vaccinate?

Another issue for parents is whether to vaccinate at all.

“For those who don’t like the vaccine, I encourage them to speak with their pediatrician, because the vaccine can be quite beneficial, and there are myths about the vaccine that proper education would help to dispel,” Hartsook says. “It’s also important to remember the vaccine is not simply to help their child, but also to help those who may not be able to get the vaccine due to health reasons.”

Bode says if you aren’t having your child vaccinated, be advised it can be difficult to protect them from the flu.

“There really is no way to keep your children completely safe without the addition of the vaccine,” she says. “Avoid crowded places (schools, churches, open indoor play areas) and make sure the people around them are vaccinated, so they won’t transmit the disease — this is how we work to protect those infants under 6 months of age.”

Flu risks

Bode also wants people to know that the flu should not be taken lightly.

“Young children and infants are at higher risk of serious illness as well as the elderly,” she says. “Also, children with special health-care needs or respiratory problems such as asthma are at higher risk and need the vaccine.”

Hartsook concurs: “While your child may not have one of these conditions, they may be in school/day care with those who do, which is why vaccination and limitation of exposure is crucial.”

He has this advice for parents who think their child may have the flu:

“When your child has the flu, it is important to get plenty of rest and fluids as well as avoiding exposure to others at home or in public places to limit the spread of the flu,” he says. “Your pediatrician can also prescribe an antiviral medication that has been recommended for treatment of the flu virus.  However, parents need to understand that the antiviral medication for the flu does not work like an antibiotic, and parents should discuss the risks and benefits of the medication with their pediatrician prior to treatment.”

Bode also wants parents to know it is important to bring your child to the doctor quickly if they are showing signs of having the flu, because the medicines that can reduce the length and severity of the illness need to be taken at the beginning of the infection.

CDC: Flu symptoms

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. The flu is different from a cold and usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often have these symptoms: fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and/or fatigue. Some people (typically children more than adults) may have vomiting and diarrhea.

Most people who get the flu will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some can develop complications — such as sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, or bronchitis — some of which can be life-threatening.

RELATED: 5 ways to keep kids safe in extreme heat.

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Margaret Beardsley

Margaret Beardsley, of Phoenix, is a staff writer and former television news executive producer. She is the mother of two adult children.

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