Seasonal Influenza ("the flu") is caused by a virus that infects the respiratory tract and is spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing. The flu can be dangerous because it can cause some people to become very ill and result in potentially serious or life-threatening complications.
A yearly flu shot is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get the flu, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all children 6 months to 18 years receive a yearly Seasonal Influenza vaccine.
Yearly flu vaccination should begin in September or as soon as vaccine is available and continue throughout the influenza season, into December, January, and beyond.
There are some people who should not get a flu vaccine without first consulting a physician. These include:
- People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
- People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination.
- People who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine.
- Children less than 6 months of age (influenza vaccine is not approved for this age group), and
- People who have a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated.)
While vaccination is the best defense against the flu, there are other steps you can take to decrease your likeliness of getting sick with the flu. Most of these steps involve practicing good personal hygiene, and include:
- Wash your hands often. One of the most common ways that people catch colds and the flu is by touching their nose or their eyes after their hands have been contaminated with the flu virus. You should wash your hands often, especially before, during, and after you prepare food, before you eat, after you use the bathroom after handling animals or animal waste, when your hands are dirty, and more frequently when someone in your home is sick.
- Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces, toys, and objects that younger children may put in their mouths. Be sure to use soap and water to clean.
- Use disposable tissues to wipe or blow your child's nose.
- Teach your children 'cough etiquette', which the American Academy of Pediatrics describes as teaching children to turn their heads and cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue or the inside of their elbow if they don't have a tissue, instead of simply coughing or sneezing onto their hands.
- Avoid close contact with people when you are sick. Don't go to school, daycare, work, etc., if you are sick with the flu.
- Avoid unnecessary contact with a lot of people for your younger children. It isn't easy to always tell when people are sick, so don't expose your younger kids to large crowds if you don't have to.
- Take a reusable water bottle to school, if allowed. The school water fountain, which may become contaminated with germs, is another possible source of contact with the influenza virus.