There are some scary headlines about kids and the flu this season.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 39 children have died from the flu during this current season and most of those deaths — 72% — were associated with influenza B/Victoria, which kids are more susceptible to, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN. And this year’s flu shot is not a great match for that strain.
For most kids, the flu is just an absolutely miserable experience, leaving them at home and in bed for days at a time. But young children under the age of 5 and others, particularly those with underlying conditions such as asthma, diabetes, cancer and children with neurologic conditions, are at high risk for flu-related complications.
So what’s a parent to do? Focus on prevention, said Dr. Martha Perry, a general pediatrician and adolescent specialist at the NC Children’s Hospital.
“One of the important things to know about the flu is it is unpredictable and that’s why all the prevention measures we take are so important,” she said in an interview. “The flu shot, even if it’s not going to protect you from the flu entirely, you are more likely to have a less serious infection or course.”
So here’s what you can do:
Get the flu shot
As Perry said, even if you or your child gets the flu, the symptoms typically won’t be as long-lasting or serious if you’re armed with the vaccine. One study found that getting the flu shot reduced a child’s risk of getting admitted to intensive care for flu-related complications by 74%.
“It’s so important,” Perry said.
While it’s best to get the shot by the end of October, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s not too late to get it now. The flu season usually runs until March or April. “You can get the flu shot well through March,” Perry said.
Wash your hands
Again and again with soap and water. And help your kids practice other good hygiene habits.
According to the CDC, that includes
- Not touching your eyes, nose or mouth, which is how germs from one person to another are often spread.
- Cleaning and disinfecting regularly touched surfaces at home, work and school. “The flu can be spread through the air as well as physical contact,” Perry said.
- Getting plenty of sleep.
- Being physically active.
- Managing your stress.
- Drinking plenty of fluids and eating nutritious food.
Stay home if you’re sick
While it’s too late to prevent getting the illness, you can save others from it by simply staying home when you’re not feeling well.
That’s especially important for vulnerable populations, including newborns who can’t get the flu shot, the elderly, children with asthma and others, Perry said.
“There are lots of newborns and old folks out there and lots of people who you don’t know who have chronic diseases. We don’t want to expose them,” she said. “Flu can be fatal for them. You could risk exposing someone who dies from it.”
If you or your child do get sick, you might want to consider Tamiflu, an antiviral medication. But the medication works best if you take it within 48 hours of experiencing flu symptoms. Perry said the medication may also be worth giving to people who live with somebody who has the flu, especially if they live with an individual who is more vulnerable to the illness.
“Everyone in the family can take Tamiflu so they avoid being infected,” she said.