Influenza (flu) activity is winding down in most of the country for this season. It's important to note that flu viruses may continue to circulate at low levels, even during the summer. The flu virus can easily spread from one person to the next and can cause mild to serious illness, even leading to hospitalization or death. As of June 22, 2017, there have been 99 deaths in children from flu this season.
There are important steps that child care providers and programs can take to protect children from flu-related illness. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend taking daily routine preventive actions to stop the spread of germs and getting a flu vaccine, assuming it is still available. These infection control practices work well in stopping the spread of other infectious diseases, too.
Make the Right Choice: Get the Flu Vaccine
Getting a flu vaccine each year remains the single best and most important step in protecting children and their caregivers from flu and its related complications. Flu can sometimes circulate in warmer months, so it is important to get seasonal flu vaccine if it is available. Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older, including all child care staff.
Child care providers also can encourage pregnant women/moms to get vaccinated for flu each year. Flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women. The CDC recommends that pregnant women get a flu shot during any trimester of their pregnancy to protect themselves and their babies from flu. Mothers pass antibodies to their developing babies during pregnancy, which protects the new baby in the first few months of life.
Ready Wrigley Prepares for Flu Season
The AAP worked with the CDC to develop a new Ready Wrigley Activity Book on influenza. This book includes tips, activities, and stories to help families prepare for flu season. The Ready Wrigley Activity Book series is designed for children 2 through 8 years of age. This series is created in a printer-friendly format. The Ready Wrigley Activity Book series is produced by the CDC Children's Preparedness Unit and CDC health communication specialists and is endorsed by the AAP. The AAP would like to thank the CDC Office of Infectious Diseases for its assistance with the development of this activity book.
Preventing the Spread of Germs
Staff members and children should be taught to cover their mouths and noses with a tissue when they cough or sneeze (and put the tissue in the trash right away). After coughing or sneezing, everyone should be encouraged to wash their hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub. Child care providers should clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Consider displaying educational materials in Head Start or early education and child care programs to encourage proper hand hygiene and cough/sneeze etiquette. "The Flu: A Guide for Parents", "Everyday Preventive Actions that can Help Fight Germs, Like Flu", and "Teaching Children About the Flu" are examples of free materials available on the CDC Print Materials Web page.
Managing Infectious Diseases in Child Care and Schools: A Quick Reference Guide (4th Edition)
This recently updated AAP manual provides child care center directors, teachers, and caregivers with important information about the prevention and management of infectious diseases in group care settings. The manual contains helpful guides, including quick reference sheets on prevention of infectious diseases. Detailed chapters address infection control measures, immunizations, and inclusion/exclusion criteria.
Preparing for Next Flu Season
It is a good time to prepare for next flu season. Below are steps you can take this summer:
Update your program's family contact information and child records, so parents can be reached quickly if they need to pick up their sick child.
Examine and revise your child care program's written plan for seasonal flu.
Schedule flu prevention education for program staff. Review policies on immunizations, hand washing; cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting surfaces and toys; and excluding (sending home) children who are sick.
Display educational materials to encourage vaccination, good hand hygiene and cough/sneeze etiquette.
Help families understand the important roles they can play in reducing the spread of flu. Plan to distribute a customized letter to parents about flu prevention and control practices in your program.
Encourage all staff, children, and parents to plan to get the flu vaccine as soon as vaccine is available in your community. Though flu seasons vary in their timing from season to season, getting vaccinated by the end of October helps ensure that staff, children, and parents are protected before flu activity begins to increase in their community. Once again, the quadrivalent live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV4), which is given by nasal spray, will not be used in any setting during the upcoming flu season.
Encourage parents to talk with their child's pediatrician about a plan for children with underlying health conditions to receive the seasonal flu vaccine as soon as it is available and to have these children evaluated early if they develop a flu-like illness. Also, some young children need two doses of flu vaccine, given at least 28 days apart, the first time they get the vaccine. These children should get their first dose as soon as possible to allow enough time to get the second dose before flu season starts.
Consider requiring flu vaccine for all child care workers and children who attend child care, even if your state does not require it. This will not only help to prevent flu infection, but it will also reduce the spread within the classroom. To increase immunization rates, consider providing incentives for getting a flu vaccine (e.g., gift card).
Additional Information from HealthyChildren.org: