We made it through the holiday season, but we still have to make it through flu season, mama.
According to the CDC, flu activity is at its peak right now. January is basically the worst month for the flu in America, and kids under 5 years old are the most at risk for being hospitalized due to influenza.
We're fighting a different strain of the flu now in the 2018-2019 season than we did last year with H3N2. The predominant strain of influenza currently going around is known as H1N1 (sometimes called the swine flu), the same strain the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in 2009.
Don't panic though mama, this flu season is not a pandemic (while 20 areas are reporting high levels of flu activity, most states are actually seeing low to moderate flu activity) and H1N1 is actually considered more mild than H3N2, but there are a few things parents need to know about this particular strain of influenza.
The bad news: Kids are most at risk
While other flu strains hit seniors the hardest, doctors and epidemiology experts say H1N1 disproportionately affects children and adults under 50. Those who lived through the 2009 pandemic and similar strains in previous decades are more likely to already have some immunity, but of course young children would not have that.
The good news: This year's flu shot is a great match for the virus
Most kids haven't built up a natural immunity to H1N1, but they can get some help from this year's flu shot. Unlike last year's shot, which wasn't a great match for the strains that were floating around, this year's flu shot is a close match for the strains of H1N1 and H3N2 (which still makes up about 10% of tested flu cases) currently circulating.
If your family hasn't got 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.
Whether your family is immunized with the flu shot or not, 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 has the flu, the CDC recommends calling your doctor. They may prescribe antiviral drugs like Tamiflu over the phone.
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 be panicking about this flu season, but we should be prepared and proactive.