Flu Season: What Parents Should Know


October is the beginning of many different things: cooler weather, changing leaves, and unfortunately it’s also the start of flu season. The flu virus can be dangerous to children under five years old, as their immune system has not fully developed. Complications from the flu for children in this age range can be pneumonia, dehydration, sinus problems, brain dysfunction, and more which can then result in hospitalization or worse.

What is the flu?

According to WebMD the flu, short for influenza, is an extremely infectious illness caused by the influenza virus, which infects the respiratory tract (nose, throat, and lungs) that appears usually in the winter and early spring. It is different than the common cold, both in virus as well as symptoms.

A cold is typically less severe, with minor coughing, a runny nose and a gradual onset. The flu, however, is much more sudden in its progression with symptoms including fatigue, fever, aching, coughing, and more, depending on the strain of virus. To make matters worse, the virus can and does often pass from someone who isn’t exhibiting severe or sometimes any symptoms, yet.

Each year the reported rates of influenza increases, with the 2017-2018 season reporting the highest record in the past decade with 49 million cases, approximately 19 more million than just one year previous.

Center for the Disease Control and Prevention, 2019

How can I prevent the flu?

The best defense against the flu is getting the influenza vaccination annually, starting at 6 months old. Since the flu virus changes at a rapid pace, the vaccination is changed every year to adapt and stay effective. There are two different kinds of flu vaccination: injection or nasal spray. To understand which option is best for you and your family, talk about it with your pediatrician. While the best way to prevent the flu is through vaccination, there are other ways to decrease the likelihood of getting the flu:

  • Practice good hygiene. Lets face it; kids can be messy. Teach your child to wash his hands with soap and water for 15-20 seconds (or long enough to sing “Happy Birthday”) after playing outside, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing his nose. Tell your child to cover his nose and mouth with a tissue if he has to sneeze, and to throw dirty tissues in the trash. Make sure you clean toys or other items your child brings to and from school.
  • Recognize the symptoms. The earlier the virus is caught, the better. If your child is showing signs of the flu like fever, fatigue, coughing, etc. keep them give them lots of fluids and nutrition like soup as well as Vitamin C. While it’s a common myth that Vitamin C will prevent colds or the flu, it may help relieve symptoms or lessen the duration. If you suspect your child has the flu, contact your child’s pediatrician.

I still have questions about vaccinations

As a parent, it’s perfectly natural and normal to have worries and questions about your child’s health and care. The CDC provides more information on vaccinations as well as the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and your primary care doctor is also a great resource to talk to with any questions you may have.

The flu is a common virus that occurs annually every winter, however there are ways to protect yourself every year as well. While practicing good hygiene, recognizing the symptoms, staying at home, and seeking medical attention are all great preventative actions, vaccinations are the best way to protect yourself, your family, and your community.

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