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The air is getting cooler and the leaves are changing which means another flu season has arrived. Children are particularly vulnerable to complications occurring from the flu, but getting them vaccinated can go a long way to protecting them from harm.

Some people think that the flu is no more than a bad cold. However, the flu can also cause additional health issues in children such as dehydration, pneumonia, or sinus or ear infections. The flu can also cause existing health conditions such as asthma or heart disease to worsen. In rare cases, the flu may cause brain dysfunction or even death. Though each flu season varies in severity, it is common for thousands of children to be hospitalized each year because of the flu. I’ve taken care of children who have been extremely ill and even died from influenza. For that reason, I get a flu shot every year and I make sure my children do as well.

Though all children are at risk of catching the flu, some children are considered especially high risk. Babies younger than six months old are particularly vulnerable to complications but are unfortunately too young to receive the flu vaccination. The best way to protect these children is to ensure that the adults who care for them are vaccinated. Children up to age five are more susceptible to flu complications simply because of their age. Even if they are otherwise healthy, they are more likely to be hospitalized after catching the flu than older children. Children of any age who have chronic health conditions such as asthma, heart disease, blood disorders or neurological disorders are also at an increased risk.

Though frequent hand-washing, good hygiene, and staying home when one is sick can go a long way to prevent the spread of the flu, another line of defense is a flu vaccine. In fact, receiving the vaccine can halve a child’s risk of death from the flu. For maximum effectiveness, the vaccine should be received by the end of October. Both adults and children should receive the vaccine annually to protect themselves and others as each year the flu vaccine is updated to offer protection against the most current virus strains.

Flu vaccines are readily available at doctor’s offices, pharmacies, community events, and even some workplaces and schools. Since children are particularly vulnerable, parents should take special care to ensure their child is vaccinated and ready to face the season protected. However, parents can offer additional protection if they take the time to get vaccinated themselves and to encourage other adults to do the same.