We’ve all seen the headlines. The flu is widespread in almost every state, and this year’s dominant strain is particularly severe.
Most terrifying of all for parents, there have been 30 reported flu deaths in children. It’s enough to make anyone want to dress their kids in a hazmat suit or not leave the house again until April.
As both a mom and an inpatient pediatric RN, I get it. But the good news is that there are more realistic ways to minimize your family’s risk of getting sick. And if someone in your house does catch the flu, there are things you can do to ease the suffering.
The flu season will come to an end eventually. In the meantime, fill up your diaper bag with hand sanitizer, take a deep breath, and follow these tips:
1. It’s not too late to vaccinate.
Yes, it’s true that this year’s vaccine may not be as effective at protecting people from the most virulent and serious strain of flu, H3N2. No, that does not mean you or your kids (if they are over six months) should skip it. The vaccine still reduces your risk of getting the flu, and it also can reduce the severity of flu symptoms if you do catch it. It has even been specifically linked to a reduced risk of flu-related death in children. Not to mention that flu vaccines contribute to herd immunity, which helps to keep people who can’t receive vaccines safe.
No matter what you hear, your kids cannot get the flu from the vaccine, because it does not contain a live virus. The likelihood that it will cause any serious reaction is minimal. But there is a chance it could not only keep them healthy but save their life.
2. If your family is healthy, there are certain places you should avoid, at least for right now.
This is hard advice to both give and follow because in the middle of winter, moms understandably get a little desperate for indoor places to take their kids. But while flu season is widespread and at its peak, your best chance at staying healthy is to avoid any indoor place full of children. This means indoor play spaces, museums, swimming pools, play gyms, fast food playgrounds, large play dates, etc.
Kids are adorable. But they’re also gross and spread germs like wildfire, and no amount of hand sanitizer is going to change that. If you need to get out of the house on a cold day (and everyone in your family is healthy), try out-of-the-box places that are less likely to be covered in viruses:
- Family-friendly breweries and cideries
- Indoor malls
- Maymont’s Nature Center
- The Science Museum
Flu season will peak and wane, and then you’ll be able to go back to all of your usual spots.
3. If your family gets sick, there are certain places you should avoid.
If your children do come down the flu, it’s very important to keep them at home. The worst thing you can do is take a flu positive child with you to the grocery store to stock up on supplies. Order online or get a friend to help you, but don’t let your child be the reason someone else gets sick.
If you have older kids, the CDC recommends waiting at least 24 hours post fever to let them go back to school. If they’re younger, that rule is much fuzzier. Little kids don’t cover their mouths or sneeze into tissues, and the flu can be contagious for up to five days after the onset of symptoms. Some parents don’t have a choice about getting their kids back in daycare or school, but the longer you’re able to keep small children home after the flu, the better.
4. Stock up on the essentials.
Do this now before anyone gets sick. The things you should have in your medicine cabinet are:
- Children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen (only give these after talking to your pediatrician)
- Nasal saline
- Some form of suction
- A good humidifier
- A 3-in-1 digital/axillary/rectal thermometer
- Honey for coughs (once a child is over a year)
- Fluids that you know your kids will drink (even if that means sugary apple juice, jello, or popsicles).
That’s pretty much it when it comes to safe and effective remedies for kids. Even though they’re simple, don’t underestimate their effectiveness. These are the same treatments we use in the hospital.
Be very careful about natural remedies sold over the counter. They tend to be much less regulated than traditional medicine. Only use these after talking to your doctor.
5. Be careful not to hide a fever.
Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can make kids with the flu feel better, but you have to be very careful not to mask a high fever.
In the hospital, we always want to get an accurate temperature before giving a pain/fever reducer, and it should be the same at home. A high fever, particularly in babies, can be a life-threatening emergency, and it’s very important that you don’t miss it because you’re giving round the clock medicine. Read instructions and follow the advice of your pediatrician, but a good rule of thumb is to take a temperature immediately before giving a dose of a pain reliever, 4-6 hours after, and always before giving another dose.
6. If your child does get sick, trust your instincts, and keep an eye out for these signs and symptoms.
Moms know their kids best. It’s a universal rule and why we listen to parents when they say something is wrong.
Most children will recover from the flu without complications, but it’s important to look out for signs of distress. If something feels wrong, don’t hesitate to seek help. There are also some basic signs that indicate an emergent problem:
- Any kind of difficulty breathing (look for grunting, nasal flaring, blue discoloration on their lips or tongues, difficulty talking or eating, and any change in consciousness or behavior)
- A high fever (or any fever over 100.4 in infants)
- An inability to take in fluids
- A decrease in urine
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- A lack of alertness
Also call your doctor if flu symptoms get better but then return with a fever and a worsening cough.
The bottom line is that if you’re worried and think your child needs medical attention, then follow your gut. You are the only person who knows your child better than anyone and knows when something is wrong.
7. Try not to stress too much.
This year’s flu season is scary, and it’s enough to make any mom want to hide under the covers with her kids all winter. But life has to continue, and you or your children will have to face the world and its germs at some point.
It’s important to remember that while there have been a higher than average number of pediatric deaths this year, even if your kids catch the flu, it’s still very unlikely that they will have any serious complications. Most kids bounce back quickly, even from serious viruses like the flu, and far faster than their parents.
The best thing you can do for your family is trust your instincts as well as your pediatrician, and know that winter will end eventually.
Our guest post today is from Liz Becker — a writer, pediatric RN, and mom of two. Her work has appeared on sites like Pregnant Chicken and Scary Mommy. She is also passionate about biscuits, travel, power walks with her golden retriever, and HGTV. She blogs about life with two babies under two and her mild obsession with Bravo reality television at lifeinacoffeespoon.com.