The Flu Vaccine and Tamiflu – What They Are, How They Work, and When They Should Be Used…

Your best protection from catching the flu is to get a flu vaccine. The vaccine does not work 100% of the time, but there are other simple steps you can take to prevent flu, such as washing your hands with soap frequently and avoiding contact with sick family, friends, or coworkers. In the United States the flu results in be 9 million and 45 million illnesses and between 140,00 and 810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths (100-200 being pediatric fatalities, typically 80% not vaccinated). Fortunately, there is a vaccine and antiviral medications that help to mitigate the yearly morbidity and mortality brought on by influenza.

Why You Should Get an Annual Flu Vaccine

It is necessary to get an annual flu vaccine because the flu changes its shape every year by a process called antigenic shift and drift. This annual vaccine will help between 40% and 60%, it is by far the best modern medicine has to offer against influenza.

Antiviral Medications

Antiviral medications are are a second-line treatment because they are less effective, more expensive, and carry more side effects. The most common antiviral medication used in pediatrics is Tamiflu. This is the only medication approved in children under 7 years old. Tamiflu does not kill the flu virus, but it slows down its ability to reproduce, allowing the body to overcome the virus. If Tamiflu is given the first 48 hours of the illness it can reduce the duration of symptoms by approximately one day. Tamiflu can decrease the risk of complications from the flu. There are side effects of Tamiflu the most common being gastrointestinal complaint in about 14% of the recipients and Neurological complaints such as hallucinations in 5% of the recipients. So because of the side effects, cost, and timing constraints it must be utilized with discretion. The benefits of Tamiflu are short-lived in comparison to the Flu vaccine which protects the recipient for the entire flu season.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Recommendations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the yearly flu (influenza) vaccine for all children 6 months and older — ideally by the end of October. This year the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend the flu shot or the nasal spray flu vaccine. Vaccines don’t always prevent the flu. Your child could get a strain of the virus that the vaccine doesn’t work against. But even if this happens, the shot should ease their symptoms. Flu shots for children don’t protect against all viruses. Your child can still get colds and infections from other viruses or other strains of the flu virus.

When to Consider Tamiflu (Flu Test is Positive)

  • The child has had symptoms for less than 48 hours
  • The child is less than 2 years of age
  • The child has underlying health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or a type of chronic illness

When Not To Consider Tamiflu (Flu Test is Positive)

  • The child had symptoms for longer than 48 hours
  • The child appears well and is responding to fever reducer

What To Do If Sick Without a Documented Positive Flu Test

  • If a recent family member has tested positive for flu and it has been less than 48 hours since exposure and the child has flu symptoms, there may be value in starting Tamiflu. However, if the child is under 2 years of age and there are no chronic medical condition, Tamiflu may not be needed especially if they have been vaccinated. 
  • Because of the side effects and cost of Tamiflu, it is prudent to do a full test before committing to treatment

What To Do If Well But Has Been Exposed to the Flu?

  • A confirmatory full test can help best guide treatment
  • If the child has a high risk for complications of influenza because of chronic medical conditions Tamiflu would be suggested.
  • Tamiflu should be used only when it can be started within 48 hours of the most recent exposure.

Flu Vacine vs Tamiflu

Your child should get their annual flu shot before taking Tamiflu. The flu vaccine is the most effective preventative care against developing the flu, especially as new and different strains emerge each year. Sometimes families openly embrace Tamiflu while shunning the flu vaccine because they are concerned about putting synthetic material into their child’s body. Statistics have shown far more side effects from Tamiflu yearly including vomiting and hallucination compared to the relatively nominal side effect of the flu vaccine, which is redness, swelling, and pain at the site of the injection. The best protection for your child is immunization against influenza each and every year. The flu can be a dangerous disease, but with proper preparation and care, you can significantly mitigate the risk to your family.

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Pediatrics of About Pediatrics of Florence

We believe that children are more than just “little adults.” They have unique personalities, challenges, and life circumstances and we have made every effort to make our offices and care as “kid friendly” as possible. We have an aquatic theme in the waiting rooms (separated for sick and well children) as well as themed examination rooms. All of our physicians are Board Certified Pediatricians and members of the American Academy of Pediatrics and our nurse practitioners are all licensed Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and are available to see both well and sick children.
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