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Flu (Influenza) and the Vaccine to Prevent It

Fact Sheet for Parents

Español: Gripe (influenza)

Doctor examining infant.

Doctors recommend that your child get the flu vaccine every year starting when he is 6 months old. Some children 6 months through 8 years of age may need 2 doses for best protection.

Note: For the 2016-2017 season, CDC recommends use of the flu shot (inactivated influenza vaccine or IIV) and the recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV). The nasal spray flu vaccine (live attenuated influenza vaccine or LAIV) should not be used during 2016-2017. The 2016-2017 influenza vaccination recommendations are now available.

The best way to protect against the flu is by getting the flu vaccine. Doctors recommend that everyone 6 months and older get the vaccine every year.


Why should my child get the flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine:

  • Protects your child from flu, a potentially serious illness
  • Prevents your child from spreading flu to others, including babies younger than 6 months who are too young to get the vaccine
  • Keeps your child from missing school or childcare (and keeps you from missing work to care for your child)

Is the flu vaccine safe?

Yes. Flu vaccines are safe. Flu vaccines have been used in the United States for more than 50 years. During that time, hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received seasonal flu vaccines. Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects, but, most people who get the flu vaccine have no side effects or side effects that are mild and short lasting.

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What are the side effects?

Most children don’t have any side effects from the vaccine, but it can cause mild side effects. For example, people vaccinated with the flu shot may feel achy and may have a sore arm where the shot was given. These side effects are NOT the flu. If experienced at all, these effects are usually mild and go away on their own within a few days.


Only Flu Shots This Season

  • The shot is usually given in the arm. Children 6 months and older should get the shot.
  • The nasal spray vaccine is not recommended for 2016-17 because of concerns about its effectiveness.

What is the flu?

The flu—short for influenza—is an illness caused by influenza viruses. Flu viruses infect the nose, upper airways, throat and lungs. Flu spreads easily and can cause serious problems, especially for very young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with certain long-term medical conditions like asthma and diabetes.


How can I protect my child against the flu?

  • Get your flu vaccine while you are pregnant. This can help protect your baby in the first 6 months of his life, before he can get his own flu vaccine.
  • Get your vaccine every year, and ask your baby’s caregivers to get vaccinated as well.
  • Make sure your child gets his dose(s) of flu vaccine soon after it’s available each season.
  • Children less than 9 years old who are getting vaccinated for the first time will require two doses of flu vaccine, spaced at least 28 days apart. Children who only get one dose but need two doses can have reduced or no protection from the flu.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Flu symptoms can include the following:

  • Fever (not everyone with the flu has a fever) or feeling feverish/chills
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Tiredness
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea (this is more common in children than adults)

Most people who get influenza recover in a few days to less than two weeks. Some people develop complications (such as pneumonia) that can result in hospitalization and even death.


Is it serious?

Millions of children get sick with the flu each year and thousands are hospitalized. CDC estimates that since 2010, flu-related hospitalizations among children younger than 5 years have ranged from 7,000 to 26,000 in the United States. Children with long-term medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, and disorders of the brain or nervous system and children younger than 5 years old (and especially younger than 2 years old) are more likely to end up in the hospital from the flu.

Flu seasons vary in seriousness each year. Since 2004, the total number of flu-associated deaths in children has ranged from 37 to 171 per season.  This range doesn’t include the 2009 pandemic season, when states reported 358 deaths in children to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some of the more serious complications from the flu include:

  • Pneumonia (lung infection)
  • Dehydration (loss of body fluids)
  • Worsening of long-term medical conditions, like asthma and diabetes

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How does the flu spread?

Flu spreads when people who have the flu talk, cough, or sneeze, and droplets of saliva that have the virus in them land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. You may also get the flu by touching an object with flu virus on it—like a doorknob or used tissue—and then touching your own eyes, nose, or mouth. People can spread the flu to others from one day before they have symptoms to 5-7 days after they get sick. This can be longer in children and people who are very sick.

People who have the flu should stay home and away from others (except to go to the doctor) until 24 hours after their fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.


Can my child get the flu from the flu vaccine?

No, the flu vaccine does not cause the flu. The flu vaccine protects your child from the flu. However, the vaccine can sometimes cause mild side effects that may be mistaken for the flu. Keep in mind that it will take about 2 weeks after getting his vaccine for your child to build protection against the flu.


Why does my child need a flu vaccine every year?

Flu viruses are constantly changing, so a new vaccine is made each year to protect against the flu viruses that are likely to cause the most illness. Also, protection provided by the vaccine wears off over time. Your child’s flu vaccine will protect against the flu all season, but vaccination will be needed again the next flu season.


Where can I learn more about flu vaccine and my child?

To learn more about the flu vaccine, talk to your child’s doctor, call 1-800-CDC-INFO or visit the CDC Vaccines for Parents site. You can also view the new Only Flu Shots This Season: Information for Parents for the 2016-2017 Flu Season [2 pages] to learn more about how to protect your child from the flu and CDC’s 2016-17 recommendations.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommend all children receive their vaccines according to the recommended schedule.


Fact Sheets for Parents
Diseases and the Vaccines that Prevent Them

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