Flu Season: What to Know

The seasons are changing, and it’s such an exciting time of the year! The holidays are right around the corner, and it seems like everyone could use some cheer after the craziness of 2020. With this in mind, flu season is coming too. This year, more than ever, it is important to know the steps that should be taken to keep your family happy and healthy to ring in the New Year. 

This year’s flu season will look a little different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Public health officials are recommending that everyone who is able be vaccinated [1]. In addition, continuing safety measures such as wearing a mask and social distancing are important to decrease the number of cases of the flu and COVID-19. By staying home and staying safe, the burden on the healthcare system is lessened, and more resources are saved.

What should I do to protect my children this flu season? 

To ensure the best chance of avoiding the flu, all children older than six months should be vaccinated. There are two types of flu vaccines, the shot and the spray. The CDC recommends that the spray not be used in children under the age of two, or younger than four with a history of asthma [2]. The flu shot that is approved for children contains an unactivated version of the virus, which is different from the more commonly discussed RIV vaccine that adults receive. This is a safe way to keep your little ones protected against multiple influenza strains this coming flu season. In situations where you believe your child is at risk for complications from the flu shot, it is important to contact a healthcare professional who can give specific instructions on whether or not a vaccine is required.

This year in particular, wearing a mask can help protect your child against both the flu and COVID-19 [5]. It is important to follow the health guidelines in your area, however the World Health Organization recommends that all children over the age of 5 wear a mask when in a situation where either virus could be transmitted [3]. In addition, practicing proper hygiene such as frequent hand washing, avoiding face touching, and wiping down commonly touched surfaces can help to ensure your child stays as healthy as possible during the winter months!

For children under the age of 6 months, there is still protection available to them thanks to the wonderful magic of breastmilk! The CDC has stated that the flu vaccine is safe for breastfeeding moms. In fact, moms who breastfeed are able to develop antibodies that can be passed on through the breastmilk, helping to protect those little ones [4]. Finally, ensuring that those around your baby are vaccinated is also a great way to reduce the transmission of the virus.

What should I do to protect myself? 

We know the lengths that parents will go to keep their kids safe from being sick, but protecting your health is just as important! Every adult who is medically able should be vaccinated against the flu this year. The flu shot is safe for almost all adults, including those who are pregnant and breastfeeding [2]. If you have concerns about an allergy or medical condition preventing you from being vaccinated, contacting a healthcare professional is the best step to figure out what you need to do to stay healthy. The nasal spray vaccine is a needle free alternative that is safe for most adults. However, the nasal spray is not recommended for women who are pregnant, those with weakened immune systems, or adults over the age of 50 [2]

Not only is the flu vaccine safe for pregnant women, it is highly recommended. For pregnant women, influenza infections are more likely to result in severe illness. The risk of hospitalization due to the flu is reduced by about 40%, just by receiving the vaccine [6]. Not only will the vaccine protect you from complications, decreasing the risk of fever helps protect against possible birth defects. Likewise, antibodies can be passed through the placenta, helping your baby have the necessary immune response before they are old enough to receive the vaccine. 

As with your children, wearing a mask and continuing to practice good hygiene is essential to staying healthy this year [5]. Many of the symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are similar, which may make it difficult to tell which is which. Since this is the case, staying home if you’re feeling sick can help prevent the spread of both, which in turn can decrease the strain on healthcare resources. 

Resources

  1. Frequently Asked Influenza (Flu) Questions: 2020-2021 Season. 3 Nov. 2020, www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2020-2021.htm. 
  2. “Who Should and Who Should NOT Get a Flu Vaccine.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 Oct. 2020, www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/whoshouldvax.htm. 
  3. “Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): Children and Masks.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-children-and-masks-related-to-covid-19. 
  4. “Influenza (Flu).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 Dec. 2019, www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/maternal-or-infant-illnesses/influenza.html. 
  5. “COVID-19: Considerations for Wearing Masks.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover-guidance.html. 
  6. “Is a Flu Shot during Pregnancy Safe?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 23 Oct. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-answers/influenza/faq-20058522. 

Claire Dowell

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