Flu cases in Washington state are already at higher-than-average levels, and experts say we have yet to hit the flu season’s peak. In the last few weeks, health officials have reported a spike in influenza activity. Seattle Children’s is seeing an increase in emergency department visits for flu symptoms. In the past week, 62 infants, kids and teens tested positive Flu vaccine kidfor flu, which is three times more than the number of cases seen in the first week of December.

Across the United States, 47 states are reporting widespread influenza activity, and at least 18 children have died from the flu this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Washington state, at least six people have died, including a 12-year-old boy.

It’s not too late to get vaccinated against the flu, a contagious virus that infects the nose, throat and lungs, and can cause fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea.

Yearly flu vaccines prevent 70 to 90 percent of the flu in children and adults, as Doug Opel, MD, MPH, general pediatrician at Seattle Children’s, explained in a recent blog post. This year’s flu vaccine contains the most common flu viruses currently circulating.

Getting the flu vaccine is especially important for children with cancer, lung or heart disease, and diabetes, but the flu can be serious even in children who are otherwise healthy. All caregivers and family members over the age of six months should receive a flu shot each year. Use the HealthMap Vaccine Finder to search for locations offering the flu vaccine.

5 tips to prevent the spread of flu

Tony Woodward, MD, MBA, medical director of the division of emergency medicine at Seattle Children’s, encourages parents to follow some simple steps to help keep the flu from spreading:

  1. Wash hands – yours and your kids’ – frequently with soap and water. Adults and older children can use alcohol-based hand sanitizers for disinfecting between hand washes.
  2. If your child is sick, keep them home from school or day care for at least one day after they no longer have a fever. If you’re sick, stay home from work.
  3. Use tissue or the crook of your elbow to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. Throw used tissues away in a covered trash bin.
  4. Remind kids to avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth, and to keep their hands away from their face.
  5. Avoid sharing personal items like spoons and towels, and clean shared spaces often.

Where to go for help

In most cases, children do not need emergency care for flu symptoms, unless they are under 2 years old, at high risk because of underlying or ongoing medical issues, or experiencing difficulty breathing or other life-threatening symptoms.

For a stable child with a fever and flu symptoms, Woodward recommends that parents contact their doctor before coming to the emergency department or urgent care clinic. On evenings and weekends, parents in the Puget Sound region can take kids to one of Seattle Children’s urgent care clinics in Bellevue, Mill Creek and Seattle, which are open from 5 to 10:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

For tips on when to visit urgent care and when to go to the emergency department, parents can review this checklist or watch a video.

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