Influenza (flu) activity is winding down for this season. It's important to note that flu viruses may continue to circulate at low levels 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.
There are important steps that child care providers and programs can take to protect children and themselves from flu-related illness. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend getting a flu vaccine each year and taking daily routine infection control measures to reduce the spread of illness.
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. Also, children 6 months through 8 years need 2 doses of flu vaccine (4 weeks apart) the first time they receive it to reach full immunity. Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older, including all staff who work in child care facilities.
For the upcoming 2018-2019 season, the AAP is recommending all children get the flu shot. Studies have shown that the flu shot has consistently been better than the nasal spray in recent years. However, the nasal spray vaccine will again be available if parents refuse the flu shot. The nasal spray vaccine is a better option than not receiving any flu vaccine at all.
Child care providers should encourage all moms to get flu vaccine each year and all pregnant women to get the vaccine during each pregnancy. 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 received the flu vaccine that influenza season) 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.
Preparing for Next Flu Season
This year marks 100 years since the 1918 influenza pandemic, the most severe pandemic in recent history. This event reminds us that it's always important to prepare in advance for severe flu seasons and pandemics.
Below are steps you can take this summer:
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 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 get the flu vaccine as soon as vaccine is available in their community. Though flu seasons vary in their timing from season to season, getting vaccinated in early fall 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 chronic medical conditions to receive the seasonal flu vaccine as soon as it is available and to have these children evaluated early if they ever develop a flu-like illness. Also, some young children need 2 doses of flu vaccine, given at least 4 weeks 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 your child care program, 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, paid time off).
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.
Free Online Training Course
Influenza Prevention and Control - Strategies for Early Education and Child Care 2017-2018
The AAP has a free online influenza-focused training course titled, "Influenza Prevention and Control - Strategies for Early Education and Child Care 2017-2018". The course educates staff who work in Head Start and other early education and child care programs about influenza policies and strategies that help keep children healthy. Upon completion of the course, users will be able to recognize the symptoms of influenza, explain how influenza is spread, discuss the importance of annual seasonal influenza vaccination with parents and peers, and much more. This course is approved for 1.0 contact hour. The course will be updated for the 2018-2019 influenza season.
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. Information within this manual can be used to implement new strategies within the center.