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It's Flu Season: A guide for parents

The new year has brought with it a spike in flu cases, and health officials warn that this flu season could be the worst in years.

In New York, there was a 74 percent increase in confirmed cases of influenza – “the flu” – over the recent holidays, with 9,200 cases reported to the New York State Department of Health for the week ending Dec. 28, bringing the statewide total to 22,800 cases this season.

Infants and young children are at greater risk for getting seriously ill from the flu. That’s why the Department of Health recommends that all children 6 months and older get the flu vaccine.

What is the flu?

The flu, or influenza, is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs. The flu can spread from person to person. The flu comes on suddenly. Most people with the flu feel very tired and have a fever, headache, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, sore muscles, and and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. The cough can last two or more weeks.

Most people with the flu are sick for about a week, and then they feel better. But, some people, especially young children, pregnant women, older people, and people with chronic health problems, can get very sick

Protect your child

Flu shots can be given to children 6 months and older.

Health experts advice that parents and guardians should get the flu vaccine for themselves and encourage thier child’s close contacts to get the flu vaccine, too. This is very important if your child is younger than 5, or has a chronic health problem such as asthma or diabetes. Because children under 6 months can’t be vaccinated they rely on those around them to get an annual flu vaccine.

Wash your hands often and cover your coughs and sneezes. It’s best to use a tissue and quickly throw it away. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands. This will prevent the spread of germs.

Tell children to:

  • Stay away from people who are sick
  • Clean hands often
  • Keep their hands away from their face
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, or to cough into their sleeve, not their hand
  • Throw used tissues in the trash
  • Wash hands with soap and water. Wash them for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
  • If soap and water are not handy, use hand sanitizer. It should be rubbed into hands until the hands are dry.

How does the flu spread?

People who have the flu usually cough, sneeze and have a runny nose. The droplets in a cough, sneeze or runny nose contain the flu virus. Other people can get the flu by breathing in these droplets or by getting them in their nose or mouth.

Most healthy adults may be able to spread the flu from one day before getting sick to up to 5 days after getting sick. This can be longer in children and in people people with weaker immune systems.

What if my child seems sick?

Contact your doctor if you think your child is sick.

Seek emergency care or take your child to a doctor immediately if your child has any of these warning or emergency signs:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish or gray skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids (not going to the bathroom or making as much urine)
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  •  Symptoms improve, but then return with fever and worse cough

Can my child go to school with the flu?

No. Children with the flu should be isolated in the home, away from other people. They should also stay home until they have no fever without the use of fever-control medicines and they feel well for 24 hours.

To learn more visit  www.cdc.gov/flu/