Updated January 15, 2019.
Over twice as many children have suffered flu-related deaths this season compared to this point in the flu season last year. This is the also first time in over 25 years that Influenza B, the less common form of the virus, has been more dominant than the Influenza A strain. Influenza B is more likely to strike children and cause serious infections.
The 2017-2018 flu season, which peaked in early February 2018 and was the most severe in almost a decade, brought about approximately 114 pediatric deaths. The following flu season was rated as “moderate” in severity thanks to high vaccination rates, but lasted a whopping 21 weeks, also peaking in February. This year appears to be following a similar course, having started even earlier than anticipated, and may be even more severe according to the most recent numbers.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 9.7 million cases of the flu have already been documented this year. 4,800 people have died from the flu this season, 32 of which were children, and 87,000 have been hospitalized. With 34 states experiencing severe outbreaks, it’s more important than ever to stay vigilant about your family’s health.
Not sure if the symptoms you or your child are experiencing are the flu? The CDC created a helpful video explaining what to watch out for.
The common cold is generally more mild than the flu, and symptoms come on more gradually. It’s also more likely to cause sneezing, and less likely to involve a fever. However, the only way to tell the difference for sure is to get a test at the doctor’s office, which usually needs to be administered within a few days of the first symptoms showing up. It’s important to find out right away rather than taking a wait-and-see approach, as flu can develop into very severe, even life-threatening, complications.
Here are a few tips for staying healthy during this flu season:
Getting the flu shot as early as possible is the first step in preventing your family from being taken down by this aggressive season. According to the CDC it’s not too late to get some protection. Their flu forecasting updates via twitter announced recently that national flu activity will remain elevated through at least mid-January, but a flu vaccine is helpful any time the virus is circulating, even after January.
Frequent hand washing is especially important during flu season to stop the spread of germs. It is also important to stay home or keep kids home at the first sign of illness in order not to spread what may be the flu. Trouble getting your child to thoroughly wash their hands? A recent study showed that using a song set to a nursery rhyme that describes the six steps recommended by the World Health Organization for good handwashing vastly improve kids’ motivation and technique.
Check out child care providers
Make sure you’re checking into places your children frequent to see if they are taking precautions as well. A new study published in the American Academy Pediatrics found that few child care centers require the flu vaccine for children attending, and only 13 percent require the vaccine for their employees. If your child attends a child care facility, ask about their policies regarding flu shots, hand-washing and illness.
Protect the youngest patients
If you’re pregnant or nursing don’t forget about your own health. The flu can be especially dangerous for pregnant mothers; getting a flu shot in the third trimester can help protect mom while passing on immunities during their first few months of a baby’s life when they are too young to get a flu shot.
With this season on track to as harsh as some previous years, we can’t be too careful about keeping our families healthy. Ideally, stay home if you or anyone in your house isn’t feeling well, and if you do think someone in your house is showing signs of the flu head to the doctor right away. They may be able to prescribe antivirals to lessen the length and severity of the flu in your household.
Dealing with school closures, childcare issues, or other challenges related to coronavirus? Find support, advice, activities to keep kids entertained, learning opportunities and more in our Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic Facebook Group.
For ongoing updates on coronavirus-related issues and questions that impact children and families, please find additional resources here.