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Why the flu outbreak poses a greater risk to babies + young children

This year, one of the scariest plot lines for any family isn’t in a book or at the theaters—it’s the real-life threat of the flu. Thanks to the strain H3N2, the flu has spread to 49 states this season and cases continue to spike. So far, 20 people have died and thousands have been hospitalized because of the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For mamas, the 2017-2018 flu season may feel especially scary. After all, according to the CDC, young children and older adults are most vulnerable to the dangerous H3N2 strain, which had made up 83% of reported cases.

As the CDC explains in their flu guide for parents, “While the flu can be serious even in people who are otherwise healthy, it can be especially dangerous for young children and children of any age who have certain long-term health conditions.”

This is because the underdeveloped immune systems in children younger than 5 and especially those younger than 2 makes them more prone to serious flu complications, such as pneumonia. Babies younger than 6 months are the most at-risk because they are too young to get their own flu vaccinations.

But, even with the flu outbreak hitting most of the country, there are still things you can do to keep your kids and loved ones from getting sick this season.

According to public health officials, your best chance to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated every year. Studies conducted by the CDC found that, although effectiveness varies, annual immunization can lower your odds of catching the flu by between 40% and 60% when the vaccine is well-matched to the seasonal strain.

Even though this year’s vaccine doesn’t appear to be as well-matched, experts still encourage families to get it—and then further safeguard themselves by following these flu-fighting tips.

1. Wash your hands often

Health experts recommend washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. You should also help your kids do the same. Soap and water not available? The CDC suggests using an alcohol-based hand rub instead.

2. Wash your hands when cooking

Giving your hands a good scrub is especially necessary when preparing and cooking food, which is an easy vehicle for germs.

3. Clean and sanitize

Disinfect surfaces and objects touched often by people in order to kill germs such as the flu virus. (Think: tables, toys, phones, door knobs, cabinets, refrigerator, etc.) Even though this is a given when someone is sick in the house, you should stay in the habit of doing it before symptoms have time to appear.

4. Keep your hands away from your face

Germs move from our bodies to objects and back again, so avoid touching your mouth, eyes or nose. Also teach your kids to do the same.

5. Cover your nose when a sneeze comes on

You can prevent other people from getting sick by covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you have to sneeze or cough. You should wash your hands right after you sneeze or cough to kill any linger germs.

6. Avoid close contact with people who are sick

You and your children should keep a far distance away from sick people if you want to stay healthy and prevent illness from spreading. If you can’t avoid contact with someone who is sick, try to limit your interactions until they feel better.

7. If you’re sick, stay home

If possible, stay home from work or school and avoid running errands when you’re sick. Get plenty of rest instead. This will prevent illness from being spread to others. If you can’t stay home, then try to limit contact with other people.

8. Treat your cold or flu

Don’t ride out being sick, especially if you have the flu. Over-the-counter drugs or prescription antivirals like Tamiflu can help reduce your symptoms and shorten the time you are sick, but only if taken upon the first sign of sickness.

Medications also help prevent serious health complications. If your child is sick, talk to your doctor about the best treatment options.

As simple as these precautions may seem, they certainly warrant repeating. Now, go wash your hands just to be safe!

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