Influenza (flu) activity remains high in the United States. This flu season began early and could continue for a while. This flu season is especially dangerous for children with 78 child deaths so far. It is NOT too late to get the flu vaccine, which protects against the 4 flu viruses that are expected to be most common in the US this flu season.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine every year. Children younger than 5 years, especially those younger than 2 years, and children with certain medical conditions, are at increased risk of hospitalization and complications from the flu. It is very important that they receive the flu vaccine now, if they have not yet been vaccinated. Can you identify these children? If so, talk to the parents/guardians in your program about the importance of the flu vaccine.
Does your program have a mechanism to track who has been vaccinated for seasonal influenza? According to the AAP manual Caring for Our Children, written documentation of current annual vaccination against influenza should be kept on file. If you do not yet do this, consider taking action now. See relevant resources and standards on influenza immunizations for children and caregivers and influenza prevention education.
Key educational points
There are steps you can take to help reduce the risk of flu and its complications. As a trusted partner in caring for children, families look to you for guidance on protecting children. Share the following information:
- Children under 6 months of age are too young to get the flu vaccine. Cocooning or immunizing family members/caregivers who spend time with these children are important ways to protect them.
- Children who turn 6 months old during flu season sometimes go unvaccinated or do not receive their second vaccine dose. Check children's records to ensure they were vaccinated; if not follow-up.
- Child care professionals may be pregnant and exposed more often to flu viruses at work. 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 (if they haven't already gotten vaccinated that influenza season) to protect themselves and their babies. Vaccinating pregnant mothers throughout the flu season is critical and helps protect newborns from flu for the first few months after birth before they can get vaccinated themselves. Ensure that anyone on your staff who is pregnant gets vaccinated.
- Antiviral medications are prescription medicines that can be used to treat flu. They can shorten a person's flu illness, make it milder, and may prevent serious complications. These medications work best when started during the first couple of days after the onset of illness and can be used to treat flu in children of all ages and pregnant women. Encourage your families to talk with their child's pediatrician right away if they have flu-like symptoms.
- A common misconception is that children allergic to eggs cannot be vaccinated for seasonal flu. Actually, it is safe for children with an egg allergy to receive the flu vaccine. Communicate this fact broadly.
Review infection control policies and procedures
With widespread flu activity, it can be challenging to keep flu viruses and other germs from spreading. Infection control policies in your child care center or home can help limit the spread of flu. Develop guidance to exclude children and caregivers who have respiratory symptoms (cough, runny nose, or sore throat) and fever. To reduce the spread of infectious diseases, implement everyday preventive actions like good respiratory etiquette; hand washing; and cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting.
This message was supported in part by Cooperative Agreement Number 5NU38OT000282-02-00, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Department of Health and Human Services.