Flu season: The flu shot and what parents need to know now

fluThe 2014-15 flu season is here, and it’s reached epidemic proportions. This season’s strain appears particularly nasty. About half of the United States is contending with high levels of flu activity, which means an onslaught of symptoms like fever, runny or stuff nose, cough and sore throat. Massachusetts has not been hit as hard as some other areas of the country. But the relative lull in flu activity might be the calm before the storm. The flu season will last for several more weeks, especially in areas that have not yet seen significant activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Got questions about the flu? We have answers.

Is the flu shot effective?

Although the flu shot does not cover the H3N2 strain that is causing about 90 percent of flu cases this season, it does provide partial protection from the virus. It may reduce severe outcomes like hospitalization and death.

Even if you and your child have not yet been vaccinated, it is a good idea to get the shot as part of your family’s flu defense.

What can I do to keep my family healthy and avoid the flu?

First, make sure everyone in your family older than 6 months of age gets the flu shot every year, says Ronald Samuels, MD, MPH, associate medical director of Boston Children’s Primary Care Center.

Other basic precautions include:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. (Encourage your kids to sing “Happy Birthday” twice as they lather the backs of their hands, between the fingers and shutterstock_38010103under the nails.) An alcohol-based hand sanitizer also works well.
  • Cover your cough. Teach your kids the Dracula sneeze of coughing into the crooks of their elbows to avoid spreading germs.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes. The germs that spread flu live here.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces.
  • Stay home if you are sick. This helps prevent the spread of flu.

What should I do if my child shows signs of the flu?

Check with your child’s doctor right away if you suspect flu. Antiviral treatments, such as Tamiflu and Relenza, can help shorten the duration of the flu and prevent serious complications like pneumonia.

Where can I find a flu shot?

The HealthMap Vaccine Finder, developed by Boston Children’s HealthMap team, is like a Google Maps for tracking down the flu vaccine. Visit it from your computer, smartphone or tablet, plug in your address and city or zip code, and it pulls up a map listing pharmacies, clinics, etc. in your area offering the vaccine.