This year’s flu is especially vicious, with all 50 states reporting illness. That’s in part due to an extra potent H3N2 influenza strain that’s circulating.
As with any infectious disease, the people most vulnerable to problems from the flu include young children. There have been an estimated 30 flu-related pediatric deaths this year.
Here are four expert-backed ways to keep your kids protected from the flu.
Make sure everyone in your family gets the flu shot
You probably should have gotten your flu shot before the end of October—but it’s not too late to do so now. The flu season will likely continue for a few more months, and even if your child already got the flu, it’s still a good idea to get him vaccinated if you haven’t already, says Dr. Flor Munoz, associate professor of pediatrics, infectious diseases, molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine. “You could be protected against other strains,” she says. “This is especially important for people at a high risk of getting sick again.”
It’s also important for everyone in your family who can get the flu shot to do so. Kids and infants who are six months or older should get a yearly flu vaccine. Because kids under that age can’t get the vaccine, it’s important that the people around them do in order to lower the likelihood that the flu will spread among people in a household.
Pay attention to symptoms and get treated fast
If your child is having respiratory issues like sneezing, stuffy nose and sore throat, it’s a good idea to take them to the doctor quickly. “Seeking medical attention early is important because antivirals are more effective if taken early—ideally in the first day or two after symptoms occur,” says Munoz.
MORE: Here’s Why the Flu Is Especially Bad This Year
Take medication if it’s recommended
If your doctor says a child should take an antiviral, it’s important they follow that treatment, says Munoz. Also, if you are getting your child vaccinated against the flu now, and the child is in direct contact with people who have the flu at school or home, it may be a good idea to have him take an antiviral for one week following the vaccination (the estimated time it takes for the flu vaccine protection to kick in). Consult with your doctor.
Teach coughing etiquette
It may be obvious, but one of the easiest ways to prevent kids from getting the flu is to make sure they follow proper sickness etiquette. That means covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing and coughing and washing hands often with soap and water. It’s also a good idea to frequently wash off counter tops and other touched surfaces this time of year. “I think it’s important to make sure [parents and kids] are aware of other children who are sick around them,” says Munoz. “Especially if they have a medical problem, they should avoid [contact] with them.”
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