If you haven’t already, it’s time to start thinking about seasonal influenza, or the flu, and the important steps you should take to protect your child. Flu season can range from October through May, but most cases of the flu in the U.S. occur between December and February.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year an average of 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized because of flu complications. And there is not only the threat of hospitalization; in some rare cases the flu can become fatal. During the 2013-2014 flu season, the CDC reported more than 100 flu-related deaths in children.
With this in mind, it’s time to consider a very important safety measure: vaccination.
“It’s tragic that each year children around the country die from a vaccine-preventable disease,” said Dr. Matthew Kronman, an infectious disease expert at Seattle Children’s Hospital and a member of Seattle Children’s Research Institute’s Center for Clinical and Translational Research. “It’s crucial for parents to understand that the flu can be very serious in children and they should take action to protect their family through vaccination.”
Vaccination: The best way to protect your family
As the first and most important step in protection against this serious disease, The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu vaccine every year. Children under 6 months are too young to receive the flu vaccine, but because they are at higher risk for complications from the flu, it is especially important that both parents and caregivers of babies get vaccinated, said Kronman.
Flu vaccine is available as a flu shot or as a nasal spray, but if you have a healthy child between the ages of 2 and 8, the CDC recommends use of the nasal spray vaccine. Recent research suggests that the nasal spray vaccine may work better than a flu shot for children in this age group. However, there are someto be aware of before deciding if the nasal spray is appropriate for your child, and you should always consult your healthcare provider before making a decision. If the nasal spray is not available, Kronman recommends still getting the shot rather than waiting.
Some children younger than 9 may require two vaccine doses in order to be fully protected against the flu. Again, contact your healthcare provider to find out.
You can find flu vaccine throughout your community in places like your health clinic, doctor’s office, pharmacy, or maybe even in your school or workplace. Keep in mind that vaccinations not only benefit you and your children, but also the people around you.
Other ways to stay healthy during flu season
Getting vaccinated is the most important step you can take for preventing your family from getting sick, and keeping the flu from spreading. When you take action to prevent flu, you can reduce missed work and school, as well as visits to the doctor’s office. Here are a few more tips Kronman recommends to help prevent the spread of flu:
- Wash your own and your child’s hands often with soap and warm water. Alcohol-based hand cleansers also work. Children should sing their ABCs twice in a row while washing their hands to ensure the proper length of time.
- Avoid people who are sick.
- People with the flu should stay home from work or school. They should stay home while they are sick and for at least one day after they no longer have a fever, without the use of fever-reducing medicines.
- Cover noses and mouths when coughing or sneezing: use tissue or the crook of your elbow when you cough or sneeze and throw the tissue away in a covered trash bin.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Remind children to keep their hands away from their face to avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth.
- Clean surfaces often, including toys, doorknobs, phone receivers, keyboards and tables.
- Avoid sharing personal items such as forks, spoons, toothbrushes and towels.
Visit our flu resource page for links to a flu vaccine finder, vaccine information statements, help deciding if illness is the cold or the flu, tips for treating flu and more.