We made it through the holiday season, but we still have flu season to deal with. Don’t panic though, mama—while this flu season is quite bad and has been fatal for some children it is not considered a pandemic. But there are a few things parents need to know about this particular influenza season.
According to CNN, the flu initially struck the Southeast, including states like Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi early in the season—but now, the Northeast is seeing high levels of flu activity, with New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania reaching particularly high levels.
CNN also reports that NYU Langone Health has seen a higher volume of flu patients recently—the week of December 29 alone saw a whopping 270 patients (both adults and children) in the emergency room and affiliated clinics.
The goods news? There are ways to minimize your child’s chances of catching the flu.
If your family hasn’t received the flu shot yet, it’s definitely worth considering, because this year’s immunization is working and it’s not too late to get it. The flu shot is not 100% effective in all cases, so even if your family is immunized there is still a chance you’ll get sick, but experts say those who get the flu after getting the shot experience milder symptoms than those who are not immunized.
There are a few things you can do to maximize flu prevention in your household:
1. Insist on good hand hygiene
It’s said often, but for good reason. We really do need to be diligent about making sure everyone is washing their hands properly at this time of year. And it doesn’t hurt to throw some alcohol-based hand sanitizer in your bag for those times when there’s no sink in sight.
2. Teach kids to keep their hands away from their face
We touch so many things over the course of the day and can only clean our hands so often, so the best way to keep germs out of kid’s mouths, noses and eyes is to teach them to keep their hands away from them. Even for a lot of adults, touching one’s face is a hard habit to break, but if we’re consistent about it we can reduce our exposure to viruses that linger on door handles and shopping carts.
3. Clean your environment (and your phone)
The CDC recommends routinely cleaning frequently touched objects and surfaces (like doorknobs and phones) to remove germs your family might have tracked home from work or school.
4. Get some sleep
We know it’s hard for parents to prioritize their own sleep, but if you can shut off your phone a little earlier tonight, do it. According to the CDC, getting plenty of sleep, along with exercise, fluids and nutritious foods can help prime our bodies to fend off viruses.
5. Teach kids to cover their nose when a sneeze comes on
If your child comes down with something, teach them to keep the virus to themselves (as much as possible) by covering their nose and mouth with a tissue when you have to sneeze or cough and washing their hands afterward.
6. Avoid close contact with people who are sick
It is not rude to tell people to stay away from your family if they are sick (especially if you’ve got a newborn). If someone is fighting a virus, reschedule your visit for a few weeks from now, when they’ll hopefully be feeling better.
No one can be totally, 100% protected from the flu, but we can and should take precautions, and parents should check with their pediatrician if they suspect their child has the flu.
Unlike colds, which tend to come on over a couple of days, the flu typically hits suddenly.
If you think your child may be developing flu-like symptoms, a call to the pediatrician is definitely in order. Pediatricians recommend parents seek immediate medical attention for kids who are finding it hard to breathe or are becoming confused or having a difficult time interacting with others.
Parents don’t need to panic about this flu season, but we should be prepared and proactive.
[A version of this post was originally published January 9, 2019. It had been updated.]