Young children at risk from flu

Young children at risk from flu South Dakotans are used to hearing about the importance of flu shots for the elderly but they might not be aware that infants and toddlers are also at risk from the influenza, says a state health official.

"Recent studies have shown that children between the ages of 6 months and 23 months old are among the most likely to be hospitalized for influenza," said Michelle Hudecek, immunization coordinator for the South Dakota Department of Health. "Almost everyone will benefit from a flu shot. But some people, like very young children and the elderly, are at greater risk for complications from influenza."

When children younger than 9 are first vaccinated for the flu, they will need two shots.

According to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the first shot should be given in October or as soon as vaccine is available, and the second shot should be given one month later. The flu shot can be given with other childhood vaccinations.

Hudecek said parents should be aware that only two vaccines, Fluzone from Aventis Pasteur, Inc., and Flushield from Wyeth Laboratories Inc., are licensed to be given to children 6 months and older.

Fluvirin vaccine from Evans is approved for use only among persons 4 years of age and older.

"It's also important to remember that while children younger than 6 months of age can't get the flu shot, they can still get influenza and become very ill," said Hudecek. "The best way to protect these infants is to immunize their family members, caregivers and daycare providers."

Hudecek said that the flu shot can be given before or during the flu season and that vaccination in December or even later still offers protection.

Recommendations call for those at risk to get their vaccinations in October while healthy individuals can wait until November.

In addition to getting a flu shot, South Dakotans should take the following steps to reduce the spread of influenza:


* Stay home if you're sick;


* Use a tissue when you sneeze or cough; and,


* Wash your hands often

More information about influenza can be found on the department's Web site at www.state.sd.us/doh/flu/ or on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site at www.cdc.gov/nip/Flu/High _Priority.htm.

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