Stories about: Seasonal health

Flu shot facts

It’s flu season. Which means I’m having a lot of conversations with parents who don’t want their kids to have the flu shot.

Most parents do want it for their children. Which is great, because influenza is more than just a bad cold. Every year about 200,000 people in the US are hospitalized because of it–and every year between 3,000 and 49,000 people die from it.

But every year, there are parents who refuse the influenza vaccine.

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Looking for the flu shot? We can help with that

A vaccine offers prevention against the flu

The season is upon us again. No, not fall or football or even holiday—I’m talking about flu season, and all the sneezing, aches and pains that come along with it.

Yesterday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) made their annual announcement encouraging Americans young and old to get a flu shot.

“Getting a flu vaccine every year is the best way to prevent influenza, which is a serious disease that can result in hospitalization or death, especially for young children or people with underlying health conditions,” says Thomas Sandora, MD, MPH, an infection control expert and epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Flu is very contagious and can be spread from one person to another even before symptoms develop, so having a high proportion of people vaccinated is important to help limit transmission of the virus during flu season.”

Clearly getting the flu shot is a good idea; especially for families with young children, but one of the questions that at least my family asks every year is where can we get the shot? After all, we have more options now than ever. The corner drugstore? Our doctors’ office? Our neighborhood’s health clinic? And how much does it cost?

We’re not alone, and luckily a tool offered by Boston Children’s HealthMap team can help. Called the HealthMap Vaccine Finder, it’s essentially like a Google Maps for tracking down the flu vaccine. 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.

Apart from basic information like address, hours and phone number for each location, the tool can also tell you which kind of flu vaccine they offer (shot, intradermal shot, high-dose shot or nasal spray), what they charge (if anything) and whether they accept insurance.

There’s even a function to help you figure out which version of the flu vaccine could be appropriate for you.

“People sometimes have a hard time deciding where to get a flu shot because there are lots of factors involved in the decision,” says John Brownstein, PhD, who leads the HealthMap team and who last year showed how getting the shot really can make a difference. “We’ve been working with lots of different companies and agencies to pull all information on location, price and vaccine type together into one place for consumers. We hope it helps encourage more people to get the shot.”

You can use the finder here:

Or by visiting flu.gov. Keep checking it, because later this year the HealthMap team will expand the Vaccine Finder to include information on another 10 adult vaccines (hepatitis A, hepatitis B, HPV, MMR, meningococcal, pneumococcal, Td, Tdap, varicella and zoster).

And webmasters and bloggers: Help your readers and users get vaccinated by putting this Vaccine Finder widget on your website!

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Insect spread illnesses on the rise: how to protect your family

By  Carolyn Moriarty

If you’ve been watching the news recently, you’re probably aware that mosquitos carrying eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) have been found in various areas across the country, including Massachusetts. EEE—and its less-dangerous counterpart, West Nile Virus—are two diseases that are spread to people by the bites of infected mosquitos. Boston Children’s Hospital’s Asim Ahmed, MD, from the Division of Infectious Diseases, recently spoke to NECN about the current West Nile outbreak, which Federal health officials are calling one of the largest in the U.S., with four times the usual number of cases for this time of year.

EEE is considered to be one of the most serious mosquito-borne illnesses in the United States. Inflammation of the brain, or encephalitis, is a frequent and life-threatening complication of EEE that may also lead to permanent neurological damage or coma. West Nile Virus is a much milder infection characterized by flu-like symptoms that generally go away on their own.

There are things that area and state governments are doing to reduce and eliminate mosquito-borne illnesses. For example, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) is constantly monitoring mosquito populations and deciding if and when aerial spraying is necessary.

Here are a few quick and easy things you can do to lessen your child’s (and your) risk of being bitten by a mosquito:

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More bugs and bites? Protect your child from ticks and mosquitoes this season

We’re not the only ones who enjoyed the record-setting mild winter—ticks and mosquitoes have too. While normal winters produce hard freezes that kill off these pests or make them dormant, unseasonably warm temperatures allowed adult mosquitoes and ticks to live through it, creating early arrival and a potential population boom for some types of bugs.

So how can you prepare your family for the early onslaught of ticks and mosquitoes?

“Prevention is key,” says Catherine Lachenauer, MD, director of Infectious Diseases Outpatient Practice at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Avoid areas at the edge of the woods with long grasses. Also, wearing long, light-colored clothing helps keep ticks from getting on the skin and makes it easier to recognize one on your body.”

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