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What’s the Latest With the Flu? A Message for Caregivers & Teachers

2017-2018 Influenza Season

As the 2017-2018 influenza (flu) season begins, it is important to be sure that your Head Start or early education and child care program is prepared. See the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Patient Education Handout, "Seasonal Influenza (Flu)" as well as the Families Fighting Flu "Stay in the Game This Flu Season" educational materials, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Ready Wrigley Prepares for Flu Season book.

Flu Viruses are Unpredictable

Anyone, even healthy children and adults, can get very sick, need to be hospitalized, and even die from influenza. While the influenza vaccine is not perfect, it is the best way to prevent influenza infections. Vaccination of children may reduce the spread of influenza in the community, prevent hospitalizations and can even be life-saving.

It is also important that all caregivers and staff be vaccinated against the flu each year. Children, especially those in child care or school settings, are more likely to get sick with flu and spread it to others. Children at high risk for flu complications include those younger than 5 years and children of any age with chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems. Yet, immunization rates among these children are lower than the general population.

As a child care provider, please do whatever you can to encourage vaccination among students and staff. You can help increase the vaccination rates of children at high risk by:

  1. Talking with parents about the importance of influenza vaccination and advising them to take their child to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

  2. Implementing a tracking procedure for influenza immunizations. The AAP recommends that centers maintain confidential records of immunizations, periodic health assessments, and any special health considerations.

  3. Inviting a pediatrician or child care health consultant to provide influenza prevention education to parents and staff.

Infants younger than 6 months are too young to be vaccinated, so they need to be protected by vaccinating the people around them. Another important way to protect infants during their first 6 months of life is for pregnant women to get vaccinated. Influenza vaccination is recommended for all pregnant women during any trimester, as well as women who are breastfeeding or who plan to become pregnant during the influenza season. Besides protecting themselves, pregnant women pass their protection against the flu onto their newborns, who are then protected for the first several months of life. As a caregiver of young children, you can help promote best practices by ensuring your center or program reminds parents that once their baby is 6 months old, they are eligible to receive their own flu vaccine!

Misconceptions about the Flu Vaccine

A number of misconceptions about flu vaccines have emerged over the years, causing some people to avoid getting vaccinated. These range from questions about vaccine safety (whether the ingredients in the vaccine are safe) to concerns about vaccine effectiveness (whether the vaccine leads to good protection against the flu). The flu vaccine is safe and is the most effective way to prevent the flu.

One widely held misconception is that a flu vaccine can cause the flu. In fact, flu vaccines cannot cause influenza because they do not contain an infectious virus; however, vaccines can cause mild side effects in some people (i.e., body aches, injection site soreness, low grade fever). Additionally, it’s possible for adults to get influenza, or another virus that has similar symptoms, just after receiving a flu vaccine. It takes about 2 weeks after vaccination for protection to set in. See the CDC fact sheet “No More Excuses: You Need a Flu Vaccine” for more information.

Practice Proper Cough and Sneeze Etiquette

Staff members and children also should be taught to cover their mouths and noses with a tissue when they cough or sneeze, or they should be encouraged to cough into their elbow or shoulder (i.e., not into their hands). After coughing/sneezing, everyone should be encouraged to wash their hands with soap and water. See the CDC handwashing presentation for additional details.

Consider displaying educational materials in the Head Start or early education and child care program to encourage proper hand hygiene and cough/sneeze etiquette. The AAP provides a letter that programs can customize and share with parents.

While everyday preventive actions are not a substitute for flu vaccination, they can help reduce the spread of respiratory viruses like flu.

Managing Infectious Diseases in Child Care and Schools: A Quick Reference Guide (4th Edition)

This AAP manual provides child care directors, teachers, and caregivers with important information about the prevention and management of influenza and other infectious diseases that circulate in group care settings. The guide contains helpful reference guides, including quick reference sheets on specific conditions or diseases. Detailed chapters address infection control measures, immunizations, and inclusion/exclusion criteria.

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11/8/2017 12:00 AM
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