Flu season can be its own kind of torture for parents of littles, especially after what we experienced last year.  Quick recap: the 2017-2018 flu season was one of the worst we’ve seen in years, and included at total of 185 pediatric deaths reported to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Scary stuff.

With this flu season underway, we thought it time for an update.  January and February typically see high flu activity, and last year’s was high even through March. To get an update on the big picture of this flu season we tapped George Vernadakis, Senior Editor at Everyday Health, who has been tracking closely. 

Update us on this year’s flu.  After such a terrible flu season in 2018, what should we expect to see in the coming months? It’s hard to predict how bad this year’s flu season will be, but we do know that flu activity across the country has picked up in recent weeks, and it’s expected to continue to increase in January and February. According to the CDC, there’s a greater than 95 percent chance the highest flu activity will come by the end of February. That means there’s still time to get the flu vaccine if you haven’t already done so.

Editor’s note: According to the CDC, the predominant strain we are seeing this year is H1N1– and yes, that would be the Swine Flu from 2009.  While this year has not been as bad as 2009’s pandemic, the strain tends to hit children and adults under 50 particularly hard.  However, there is good news: this season’s flu shot is a really good match for the current strains. 

The flu is one of so many bugs going around this time of year.  Could you explain a bit more about what the flu is (and isn’t?) Are there any “telltale” signs parents might see in babies or toddlers? The flu is a very contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Since it’s caused by viruses rather than bacteria, antibiotics aren’t an effective treatment. Flu viruses can spread from person to person through coughs, sneezes, and even just by talking. You could also get sick if you touch a contaminated surface and then put your hand to your mouth or nose – something that children are very likely to do.

Younger children are at higher risk for serious flu complications like dehydration, pneumonia, and ear infections. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get vaccinated, but the vaccines aren’t approved for infants under 6 months. So it’s especially important that caregivers and other members of the household get vaccinated to reduce their risk of getting the flu and spreading it to the child. Covering your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze cuts down on the spread of germs. So does disinfecting any surfaces or objects that might be contaminated.

The CDC advises that you contact your child’s doctor if they have shallow or rapid breathing, develop a fever, or seem less responsive than normal. If your child does have the flu, the doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug.

Editor’s note: According to the CDC, the flu tends to come on suddenly, unlike the common cold, which comes on gradually.  With the flu, your child will feel very sick, very quickly.  A fever will most likely (though not always) occur.  Vomiting and diarrhea are more likely to occur in children, but there are no absolute, tell-tale signs.  In general, flu symptoms happen throughout the body, instead of just the head, like a cold, and are more severe. 

What are your flu prevention and treatment tips and insights to empower parents this flu season? While you can’t completely avoid your child getting sick, there are simple steps you can take to reduce their risk getting the flu. The first thing is to get them vaccinated. Also, teach them good personal hygiene.  Something as simple as washing your hands properly helps prevent the spread of germs. The CDC recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds at a time.  

Editor’s note: Keep your child home, keep them well hydrated, and call your doctor if anything seems off.  If your child seems to get better, then get worse, has difficulty breathing, shows signs of dehydration (dry eyes and mouth, few wet diapers) or won’t eat or drink, call your doctor right away. 

Here’s something cool: for an up-to-date look on what’s happening in your ‘hood, enter your zip code into Everyday Health’s Flu Map to follow flu-risk trends and predictions in your area.