Fall typically marks the start of ‘respiratory illness season,’ so in addition to protecting yourself from COVID-19, it’s also time to get your annual flu vaccine.
Getting a flu vaccine — combined with the additional protection of masks, hand washing and social distancing — is the best way to reduce the likelihood of getting sick. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older.
Delphene Hobby-Noland, manager of infection prevention and control at Children’s of Alabama, said hand washing is the best way to stop the spread of germs.
“Our hands are the primary way that we transmit germs,” Hobby-Noland said. She suggests washing hands with soap for about 20 seconds (hint: sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice). Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a good alternative when soap and water are unavailable.
Hobby-Noland said that those most susceptible to the flu are children and the elderly because their immune systems tend to be weaker. Children under the age of 5, especially those younger than 2 years old, are particularly more likely to suffer from flu-related complications. These complications include pneumonia, dehydration, worsening of long-term medical problems like heart disease or asthma, swelling in the brain, sinus problems and ear infections. Children younger than 6 months cannot receive the flu shot, meaning that it is important for everyone who is of age to be immunized, especially caregivers and parents of young children. While the shot does not cover all strains of the flu, it can shorten or cause the case to be less severe even if someone does get the illness.
Other preventative measures involve disinfecting commonly used surfaces, as well as encouraging children to cover their mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and to avoid touching their faces.
If your child is experiencing milder flu-like symptoms, contact your pediatrician or primary care provider before going to the hospital. This helps to prevent further overcrowding, risking exposure to more serious illnesses and spreading the flu to children with underlying conditions who can’t fight infection as well as others.
Common symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever or feeling feverish with chills, though not all people with the flu will have a fever
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Vomiting and diarrhea, which are more common in children
For more flu and respiratory illness resources, visit https://www.childrensal.org/cold-and-flu-updates-and-resources