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Helping kids avoid the flu

Vaccination and good hygiene practices can help your kids steer clear of the flu.

Every year millions of kids come down with the flu. While this common illness is generally not serious for most kids, it can be dangerous and—in rare cases—deadly.

This doesn't mean parents need to panic. But parents should do their best to take precautions and focus on prevention.

Remember, most kids who get the flu feel lousy for about a week and then recover completely.

Flu basics

Parents can do a lot to help their kids avoid catching or spreading the flu. You might want to start out by teaching your kids how flu germs spread.

Flu germs live in the nose, throat and lungs. When people with the flu cough or sneeze, they release germ-filled droplets into the air. If other people breathe in these droplets, they can catch the flu.

Those same droplets can land on surfaces like tables, desks and doorknobs, where the germs can live for several hours. If people touch the surface during this time, then touch their nose or mouth, they can get sick.

A person can spread flu from a day before they develop symptoms until seven days or more after symptoms appear, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since people can be contagious before they even know they are sick, good hygiene habits are essential for slowing the spread of flu.

Handwashing and more

Healthy hygiene habits center on containing those germ-carrying droplets. According to CDC, some of the most important things parents can do are:

  • Insist on regular handwashing. A 20-second wash with soap and water will take care of most germs. If soap and water aren't available, gel and foam hand sanitizers can do the trick. A good way to make sure kids wash long enough to kill germs is to have them sing "Happy Birthday" twice while scrubbing.
  • Remind kids to try not to touch their eyes, nose or mouth with their hands. This is a hard habit to break for many kids, so it may take several reminders.
  • Teach kids to cough and sneeze into a tissue or their elbow. The aim is to keep germs out of the air and off the hands.
  • Make sure kids toss used tissues into the trash.

Since the flu is so contagious, you'll want to keep your children away from people who are sick. And if children become sick, keep them at home.

Don't hesitate—vaccinate

Of course, the single best way to protect your kids from the flu is to get them vaccinated, according to CDC. For information about vaccines, talk to your child's healthcare provider, or visit CDC's flu page to find out where flu shots are available.

Children must be 6 months old before they can get the flu vaccine. Children ages 6 months to 8 years who are getting a flu vaccine for the first time will need two doses. Some children who have been vaccinated previously may need a second dose as well.

The flu vaccine is safe and has few side effects. And it will not give your child the flu.

Reviewed 4/23/2024

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