Pratt: Stay protected; know your flu facts

Published 12:02 am Saturday, October 28, 2017

The flu virus is common and unpredictable, and it can cause serious complications and death — even in healthy children.

Despite studies proving that flu vaccinations are a lifesaver, less than half of all children in the United States (and even fewer parents) are immunized each year.

Fear and misinformation cause many families to take their chances with this potentially fatal respiratory virus.

One recent survey from Ipsos Public Affairs, a social-research company, found 16 percent of Americans consider the vaccine to be unsafe and 35 percent believe the vaccine causes the flu.

As a result of these myths, children continue to die from an illness that is largely preventable. Because awareness and education are keys to making lifesaving decisions about your family’s health, we gathered the facts to bust the myths.

THE MYTH: My child has an egg allergy and the vaccine will cause a reaction.

MYTH-BUSTER: Children with an egg allergy can safely get the flu shot from their pediatrician without going to an allergy specialist. Even those with a history of severe egg allergy don’t have to treat flu vaccine differently than getting any other vaccine, because these people are not likely to have a reaction to the flu vaccine.

THE MYTH: It won’t help. My vaccinated child still got sick last year.

MYTH-BUSTER: No vaccine offers complete immunity. This is especially true for influenza because virus strains are constantly changing. Experts have to guess months in advance which strains to target. The good news — they’ve gotten it right 18 of the last 22 flu seasons. Even when it isn’t a perfect match, the antibodies produced in response to the vaccine can protect against related flu viruses.

THE MYTH: The vaccine causes autism.

MYTH-BUSTER: A robust body of research continues to show that the influenza vaccine is safe and is not associated with autism. No factual study has ever shown a connection between autism and vaccines containing thimerosal—a mercury-based preservative that keeps bacteria and fungi from growing in multi-dose vials of the flu vaccine. In fact, the 1998 study that first raised the fear about the MMR vaccine was retracted in 2010 after it was proven that the research findings were fabricated and erroneous. Subsequent studies conducted on thousands of children indicate that both vaccinated and unvaccinated children are equally at risk for autism.

THE MYTH: I’m pregnant, and getting vaccinated could harm my baby.

MYTH-BUSTER: Catching the flu while pregnant increases your risk of miscarriage and premature birth. Being sick is also dangerous for you. Your lungs and heart already work harder when you’re pregnant and influenza strains them even more, which can lead to pneumonia and hospitalization. Besides, when you get vaccinated, you pass flu-fighting antibodies on to your baby-to-be that can protect him or her up to four months after birth.

Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to the flu. St. James Parish Hospital is offering its walk-in Flu Shot Fair during all Urgent Care Hours.

After October, simply make an appointment with your family physician’s office. Also, teach your child to avoid touching their face, nose and eyes which is how cold viruses enter the body. Remind children not to cough and sneeze into their hands, always wipe down commonly used public areas if possible and keep pocket hand sanitizer nearby.

Mary Ellen Pratt is St. James Parish Hospital CEO. She can be reached at