Kids and germs just seem to go together. That can be a dangerous combo, especially when flu season rolls around. Younger kids are especially vulnerable—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized every year because of flu complications. Last year, 276 children died from flu-related illnesses. Take the steps below to prevent your child from getting sick at school or daycare, and to keep the flu from spreading to others.
Have your child vaccinated
The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for all children ages six months and older. Try to get the vaccine as soon as it's available, usually in early fall.
Your child will need two doses if she is six months to nine years old and is getting the vaccine for the first time. The first dose should be given as early in the flu season as possible, with the second one following about 28 days later. Remember that it takes about two weeks after the second dose for flu protection to begin.
Know if your child is at high risk
The CDC lists several conditions that call for special precautions when it comes to the flu. Talk to your pediatrician if your child has any of these health problems:
- suppressed immune system
- chronic kidney disease
- heart disease
- sickle cell anemia
- long-term aspirin therapy
- any condition that can reduce lung function
Teach proper hand washing
Next to getting a flu vaccine, washing your hands often is probably the single best way to prevent the flu. Teach your kids how to do it right: Wash your hands thoroughly with warm soap and water for 20 seconds (that's long enough to sing "Happy Birthday" through twice). Rinse and, in public restrooms, turn the faucet off with a paper towel. Remind children to wash their hands as soon as they come home from school or daycare, before they eat, and after every trip to the bathroom. Pack an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in their backpack for times when soap and water isn't available, and remind them to use it often. The school should keep a good supply on hand, too.
Cover coughs and sneezes
People most often catch the flu through "droplet spread"—the stuff that comes flying out of your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. Teach your child to cover his nose and mouth with a tissue (or the crook of his elbow, if a tissue's not handy) when he coughs or sneezes, and then throw the tissue away and wash his hands.
It's OK not to share
Flu germs can live on hard surfaces up to two hours or longer. Remind your child not to share food or dishes with friends, and check with the school or daycare to see that toys and other frequently handled surfaces—including desks and computer keyboards—are cleaned daily.
Keep your child home if she's sick
Flu symptoms in children include fever, chills, muscle aches, tiredness, a dry cough, sore throat, and sometimes nausea. To keep the flu from spreading, you should wait 24 hours after your child's fever is gone before letting her return to school.