A common misconception is that flu season occurs only during the winter. It actually starts in October and can last until May. But August is the time to think about getting vaccinated. Many pharmacies are now offering flu vaccines in mid-August and certainly by early September.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, about 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu each year. Most people who get the flu will have mild illness, will not need medical care or antiviral drugs, and will recover in less than two weeks. Some groups are at higher risk of complications from the flu virus. Children younger than 2-years-old are at a higher risk of complications, as well as patients over 65-years-old. The risks can be as severe as being hospitalized and occasionally even death in very high-risk patients. Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections are examples of flu-related complications. The flu also can make chronic health problems worse.
For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience a worsening of this condition triggered by the flu.
Medical conditions that may be worsened by the flu include:
· Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions, such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy or stroke
· Chronic lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and cystic fibrosis
· Heart disease, such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease
· Blood disorders, such as sickle cell disease
· Endocrine disorders, like diabetes
· Kidney and liver disorders
Flu outbreaks may be concerning for parents because children are notorious for contracting and spreading infections. Children like to touch, lick, and eat almost everything they come in contact with, especially when parents aren’t watching.
Here are some tips to help minimize the risk of spreading the flu virus:
1. Wash your hands frequently!
Hand washing is the most effective way to prevent the spread of infection. Handwashing can be difficult to for younger children, but turning this into a game for your little one makes it easier. Make sure to wash your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds or sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use a hand sanitizer.
2. Get vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that people get vaccinated against the flu right when the vaccine becomes available, many pharmacies start in September. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop to protect against the flu. Minor side effects may include redness, swelling, pain and low-grade fever after receiving a vaccine, but these reactions last about 24 to 48 hours.
3. Cover your mouth and nose.
Teach your children to cover their mouth and nose using a tissue or their sleeves while coughing or sneezing. If your child is sick, have them avoid face-to-face contact with you or anyone else. This will help to keep them from spreading germs. Always have your child wash their hands afterward to further minimize the spread of infection.
4. Wipe and clean all surfaces.
Germs often grow on multiple surfaces, such as the coffee table, doorknob, toys or countertops. To help our little ones who love to touch and lick everything, parents should disinfect all surfaces using anti-bacterial cleaners.
5. Keep your children home when they are sick.
If your child has a fever of 100.4° F or higher, it is probably best to contact your pediatrician and, depending on their advice, consider keeping your child home from daycare or school. Make sure they are free of fever for at least 24 hours without fever-reducing medications before they are sent back around other children.
Remember, always contact your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns regarding your family’s health.
For more information visit www.sw.org.