Flu is Still Circulating
Influenza (flu) activity is winding down for this season in most of the country. 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 and at times can lead to hospitalization or even death. As of May 28, there have been 74 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs and getting a flu vaccination as long as flu viruses are circulating and vaccine is available. The 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 has been known to circulate into June, so it is still important to get seasonal flu vaccine until its expiration date at the end of June. Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older, including all child care staff. Vaccination is especially important for children younger than 5 years of age and children of any age with a long-term health condition (e.g., asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and neurological and neurodevelopmental diseases) that puts them at higher risk of serious complications if they get the flu. Are there children in your program who recently turned 6 months old? Check now to see if they still need the flu vaccine!
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, their developing babies, and their young infants from flu. In turn, mothers pass antibodies to their developing babies, and this protects the baby in the first few months of life. Infants ages 6 months and younger are 70% less likely to get the flu if their moms got the flu vaccine during pregnancy. Pregnant women should not receive the nasal spray flu vaccine.
Children and Flu Antiviral Medications
While a flu vaccine is still the single best way to prevent the flu, there are prescription medicines that can be used to treat the flu illness. Antiviral medicines can make flu symptoms milder and shorten the time that someone is sick. These medicines work best if they are started within two days of getting sick. A doctor can answer your questions about these important medications.
Influenza Prevention and Control Handout Available in English and Spanish
The "Influenza Prevention and Control: Strategies for Early Education and Child Care Programs" handout will help you learn more about how to lessen the impact of flu in your Head Start or early education/child care program. The handout is available in English and in Spanish. To request complimentary print copies of the handout while supplies last, e-mail DisasterReady@aap.org.
Head Start and Child Care Programs Webinar Archive
In February 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and its National Center on Early Childhood Health and Wellness hosted a webinar titled "Head Start and Child Care Programs: An Important Part of Community Readiness and Response to Seasonal Influenza". The webinar described recommendations for this year's flu season, discussed why it's important for everyone who works in Head Start and other child care programs to be vaccinated for flu, and shared strategies that can be used in child care settings to prevent or control the spread of flu. A link to the archived version of the webinar is available here.
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.
Take the free 1-hour online AAP/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention course "Influenza Prevention and Control: Strategies for Early Education and Child Care".
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.
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 4 weeks apart. 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.
There are a number of fears or misconceptions about the flu vaccine that cause some adults to avoid getting themselves and their children immunized. These can lead to parental worries about vaccine safety and effectiveness. To prepare for next flu season, direct parents to the following AAP and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resources: If you Choose Not to Vaccinate Your Child, Understand the Risks and Responsibilities; Debunking 5 Myths about the Flu; and Preventing the Flu: Resources for Parents & Child Care Providers.
Ready Wrigley Disaster Preparedness Books
The AAP and the CDC have collaborated to release Ready Wrigley disaster preparedness activity books for children 7 to 10 years of age. Each book includes tips, activities, and stories to help the families prepare for disasters. The AAP has a select number of print copies available of the tornadoes, earthquakes, winter weather, and hurricanes books. E-mail DisasterReady@aap.org to request complimentary copies of these books while supplies last.