Learn How to Protect Your Child from the Flu and What to Do if Your Child Gets It
We are now in the middle of a deadly flu season in the United States, nearing its peak in February. Hearing in the news a couple of days earlier about a tragic story of a healthy 10-year-old Connecticut boy, who had died from flu complications, triggered me to do another thorough research on the flu.
In this day and age of advanced medicine, one might think that flu is no longer dangerous. But here we are getting disturbing news of people across the country, many being children, dying from this seemingly easy illness.
Let’s agree that flu is, in fact, a very dangerous infectious disease that can lead to fatal consequences if not given proper attention to.
So let’s dive into what is flu, how to prevent it and what to do if your child gets it.
What is Flu?
According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), flu (influenza) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. The influenza A and B viruses are the two main types that spread in people. While flu viruses are active throughout the year, in the United States the flu season starts around October and lasts until April with its peak coming to December and February.
Peak Month of Flu Activity
1982-1983 through 2015-2016
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
With this in mind, somewhere during September and October, we need to start thinking how to protect our children from the flu. This especially concerns parents of young children as they are at higher risk to get complications from the flu. With the right preventative measures and careful treatment, the illness can be mild.
However, if not given proper attention very serious outcomes are also possible which in rare cases may result in hospitalization and even death. If your child is younger than 5 years old, with very first symptoms of the flu, it’s absolutely vital to take him to your pediatrician right away. You should never assume that he’ll get better on his own. Only a medical professional is capable of evaluating your child’s condition. So what are flu symptoms?
- Sore throat
- Runny and stuffy nose
- Muscle and body aches
- Vomiting and diarrhea
It is important to understand that your child might not get all of the symptoms at once. Plus, in most cases, young children aren’t able to communicate what’s bothering them. Hence, never ignore mood changes in your child. If my son gets particularly cranky and wants me to constantly hold him, I know something is wrong with him.
To put it briefly, even if your child has a slightly runny nose but is also unusually irritated and fatigued, take the precaution and consult with your doctor.
How Flu Spreads?
Flu is a highly contagious illness. Flu viruses spread mainly when we breathe in the air that is contaminated by people around us who got the flu when they cough, sneeze or talk. The bad thing about the flu is that we may be able to pass it to someone else before we even know that we are sick.
So basically, we can infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 7 days after becoming sick. If not treated properly flu can develop big complications like pneumonia, ear infection, sinus infections and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes.
As a parent, you need to realize that flu is dangerous for children. According to CDC every year millions of children get sick with seasonal flu, thousands of them get hospitalized and some children even die.
You need to be extremely careful if your child is under 5 years old or has chronic medical conditions because that’s when they are at a higher risk for serious flu-related complications. Things to be aware of:
- children need medical care because of influenza, but especially if they are younger than 5 years old;
- children under 5 years, and especially those that are younger than 2 years, are at a high risk of developing serious flu complications;
- children of any age that have chronic health problems like asthma, diabetes, and brain or nervous system disorders are also at high risk of serious flu complications.
OK, I know that the whole question of getting or not getting vaccinations is very controversial. Many parents are against having their kids vaccinated, and yet I’m going to include this in my blog post.
I am in the group of parents who are in favor of vaccinations. Every October, I take my son to our pediatrician for a flu shot, and I myself also get one. I will give my reasoning for this in a separate blog post. If, unlike me, you are a parent who is against vaccinations you can just skip this section and go to the one where I talk how to protect our children from the flu without vaccinations.
Coming back to the flu vaccine, CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and AAP (The American Academy of Pediatrics) recommend that children 6 months of age and older receive a flu vaccine every year before flu season begins. The flu vaccine is the single best way to protect our children from the illness and its complications. When your child is vaccinated, even if he gets the flu it will help to reduce the severity of the illness and possibility of any complications.
Now, there are a number of important things that we need to know about flu vaccine:
- Babies younger than 6 months CAN NOT be vaccinated (see below for more information on how to protect babies from the flu).
- You should get your child vaccinated as early as October because it takes two weeks after the vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body. But because the peak of the flu season is around January and February, getting vaccinated later on can still be beneficial throughout the flu season, even into January or later.
- Your child might need 2 doses of vaccine if he’s being vaccinated for the first time or he has previously only gotten one dose of vaccine. If that’s the case you need to start the vaccination process even earlier because the two doses must be given at least 4 weeks apart.
- You should not vaccinate your child if he is feeling ill. You should wait until he gets completely well and then have the vaccine.
- Although you can get a flu shot in CVS or any major clinic throughout the United States for free the best place to take your child to get a flu shot is your pediatrician. Your doctor knows your child’s medical history, including any allergies. Also, your doctor will make sure that your child doesn’t have any signs of sickness and confirm that it is safe to give him the shot. And overall you will just feel safer and your little one will be more comfortable if you take him to someone he already knows and trusts.
Other steps to take to protect your child from the flu
Boost your child’s immunity for the fall and winter season. I have a separate post about some natural ways that help to boost our children’s immune system. I myself do everything on that list, you can read it here.
Wash hands frequently: Although flu virus is mainly spread through the air we can also get it by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching our own mouth, eyes or nose. And that’s what our children do the most, right? Touch their mouth and nose. So teach your child how to wash hands properly and to do it frequently. If water and soap are not available you can use a hand sanitizer or wipes. I myself alcohol-free, non-toxic products, so I use this sanitizer and these wipes. If you use an alcohol-based hand rub, make sure it dries out when you apply it to your little one’s hands. You wouldn’t want your child swallowing alcohol or toxic substances when he puts his hands in the mouth.
Keep your child away from crowded places: Of course, you might not be able to keep your child from daycare or school but try to avoid places packed with people like public transportation or malls on very busy days. This way you can highly reduce the odds of your child picking up flu germs.
Use separate utensils and towels for each member of the family, especially children. Change towels and linens frequently.
Spend more time outside with your child. In colder months we tend to stay indoors more often. I myself hate to go outside when it’s cold but it’s a must for us to have our son be outside for a couple of hours every day (well, we live in California, so it doesn’t get that cold here, after all). What you can do is at least let some fresh air in, so make a habit to open the windows for at least 5 to 10 minutes every morning. If your child attends daycare or school, check their policy on how long kids spend outside: the longer the better. And even on days when you don’t go out, it’s important to have some physical activity, because the healthier the child the easier it will be for his body to fight any type of viruses. Children are normally very active on their own. They love to jump and run around, so don’t limit their movements and let them be active. They can just jump and run at home. Or you can also do indoor activities like going to the gym or indoor swimming pool.
Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that are being frequently touched. Make sure to use non-toxic products that don’t contain any harmful ingredients if you have a small child at home. These are some of the safest cleaning wipes that I’ve found.
Protect your baby from the flu (younger than 6 months)
All these recommendations come from my own experience. Some of these might seem too much to you so feel free to follow some or all or just ignore this section. If you are as paranoid and as careful as I am when it comes to your baby, you might actually find these really helpful. And, I hope you do.
As I previously mentioned, babies younger than 6 months cannot get a flu vaccine and they are the ones that are at a very high risk of serious flu complications. So you should be extremely careful with a newborn child if you are in the middle of a flu season.
Here’s how you can protect your baby:
- Get vaccinated while pregnant: not only is it highly recommended for a pregnant woman to get a flu shot for her own health but also it will protect her baby for several months after birth.
- When your child is born make sure everyone who will be taking care of your baby, including yourself, gets vaccinated. You might not be in the group of people who normally gets a flu shot but when you have a newborn child this is the best single way to protect your baby. My son was born in August, i.e. we were heading right to the flu season so I had to drag my husband, as well as my in-laws (who normally don’t get any vaccines) to get the flu shot. And only then, I had some peace of mind.
- You need to avoid any crowded places with your baby. OK, everything is clear with the crowded places. But also, when having friends or family visit or when you go to see your friends with your baby, ask in advance if everyone in that household is healthy. If there is the slightest chance that someone might be sick, just play on the safe side and postpone their or your visit.
- Never let anyone touch your baby without washing their hands first. This might sound extreme but you should think about your newborn child and not what anyone might think. Plus, you have a good excuse, you just had a baby, so you are allowed to be paranoid 🙂 I had alcohol-free hand sanitizers everywhere around my house and made everyone use those before even coming close to my boy.
- Check your daycare’s policies on flu. Of course in the perfect world, you’d want to have your baby by your side at least until they get to the age of 6 months. But if this is not possible for your family and you plan to give your baby to a daycare early, do check their policies on flu. It’s important for sick babies to stay home with their parents and not spread the virus to other babies and caregivers. You might want to take lots of wipes and sanitizers to your daycare and ask for those to be used generously.
How to Treat the Flu
What to do when your child gets sick
Again, when heading towards the flu season you should always be at a watch out for flu symptoms (see above for the full list). The first most important thing that you need to do if you see your child developing any type of symptoms that might be associated with the flu is consult with your pediatrician. Do NOT send them to daycare or preschool. And always remember that young children especially those that are younger than 5 years old are at high risk of developing flu complications. So, never take the risk and assume anything. Let your little one stay at home, have rest and drink lots of fluids. Watch them to see how the sickness develops and constantly talk to your doctor.
What to do if your child seems too sick
If your child seems to be too sick and your pediatrician is not available then head to an emergency room right away. Here are some of the main warning signs for going to the emergency (this list is not exhaustive, of course):
- fast breathing or trouble breathing
- severe vomiting
- bluish or grayish skin color
- high fever
- Fever with rash
What medicine treats flu?
If your child gets the flu your pediatrician might prescribe an antiviral drug. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that can lessen symptoms and shorten the time that your child is sick with the flu. They also can prevent serious flu complications like pneumonia. As children are at higher risk of serious flu complications treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having milder illness instead of a very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay. And because antivirals work best during the first two days of illness it’s very important to consult your doctor at an early stage.
There are three FDA-approved antiviral drugs recommended by CDC this season to treat influenza:
- oseltamivir (available as a generic version or under the trade name Tamiflu®),
- zanamivir (trade name Relenza®), and
- peramivir (trade name Rapivab®).
Children can take two of the approved antiviral drugs – oseltamivir and zanamivir.
Oseltamivir is recommended by the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for the treatment of influenza in persons aged 2 weeks and older, and for the prevention of influenza in persons aged 3 months and older.
Zanamivir is recommended for the treatment of influenza in persons aged 7 years and older, and for the prevention of influenza in persons aged 5 years and older.
Peramivir is recommended for use in adults aged 18 and older.
When can your child go back to school?
To repeat, sick children need to stay at home and get proper care for the entire period of the illness. This is not only for their own benefit but also to make sure that they don’t spread the flu to other kids. Again, rely on your pediatrician in determining when your child completely recovers. Normally they can go back to school 24 hours after their fever is gone.
Phew! I know I covered a lot, so thank you for hanging in there with me. I wanted to make this post as comprehensive as possible but at the same time easy to read for a busy overwhelmed mom. Stay healthy yourself and take good care of your little one, friend!
Any question or comments? Please let me know, I’d love to hear! And please do share this post with your mom friends if you think they’d benefit from it. Sharing is caring! 🙂
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