With flu season already here and our kids back in school, there are a few small steps you can take to keep everyone in your family healthy this year. Since the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, staying safe and healthy during this flu season might be more important than ever.
2021-22 Flu Season Details
According to the Florida Department of Health website, the flu season in Florida runs from October through May, as these are the cooler months of the year. This flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) forecasts that four distinct flu viruses are likely to spread and cause illness. That is why this year’s flu vaccines are quadrivalent, or four-component, to protect against each of these unique strains of the virus.
The CDC also notes that due to mask-wearing and other measures used to protect against the COVID-19 virus, flu activity was abnormally low last year. That, of course, is a very good thing, but there’s a caveat: Reduced exposure to the flu last year could potentially lead to reduced immunity and that, in turn, could potentially cause an early and severe flu season this year. In addition, it’s not uncommon for new flu strains to circulate each year, which is why it’s always important to protect yourself and your kids from infection.
Why (and How) to Get a Flu Vaccine
The best protection from getting infected with the flu this season is to get yourself and your children the annual flu vaccine. The CDC continues to recommend a flu shot for almost everyone age 6 months and older, with just a few exceptions. These exceptions include people who are allergic to flu vaccine ingredients or who have had a severe reaction to the flu vaccine in the past. People with some medical conditions, such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), should also avoid the flu vaccine in some instances. Be sure to talk to your health care provider if you are unsure whether the flu vaccine is right for you or your kids.
With some families getting COVID-19 vaccinations recently, it has raised some questions about the timing of the flu vaccine: Is it safe to get COVID-19 vaccines and flu vaccines at the same time for you and your children? The short answer is yes. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends getting the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine simultaneously for the best protection from both, though getting either one before or after the other is fine. However, if a child has moderate or severe COVID-19 infection, they should not get the flu vaccine until they are fully recovered.
As of the time of this writing, COVID-19 vaccines are only available for children age 12 and older, although younger children may soon be eligible to receive the vaccine.
Masks and Flu
With mask-wearing becoming more common in the United States due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has made the idea of wearing a mask to also prevent flu infection more appealing. The Mayo Clinic says that wearing a mask can help prevent flu infection, though they are generally only recommended for health care workers in close contact with flu-infected people. That being said, continuing to wear a mask in public spaces can help lower your and your children’s risk of catching and spreading both COVID-19 and the flu. As the numbers indicate, mask use certainly seemed to help keep infections down during the last flu season.
Other Means of Flu Protection
In addition to getting the flu vaccine and wearing a mask, the American Lung Association says there are other ways to protect your family from the flu, as well:
- Wash your hands often. Flu virus is frequently passed from your hands into the body via the mouth, nose or eyes. Washing your hands with soap and warm water for 30 seconds is one of the best ways to prevent this. You can have your kids practice the timing by singing “Happy Birthday” twice while they wash.
- Carry hand sanitizer. Having hand sanitizer on hand can help keep everyone safe when frequent handwashing is not an option.
- Avoid crowds when you can. Large crowds are a common way that flu gets passed around, so avoid large groups of people in crowded indoor spaces when possible.
- Keep your distance. Giving everyone their space, when possible, is also a simple way to prevent transmitting germs to one another.
- Cover coughs and sneezes. Teach your kids to cough or sneeze into a tissue or into their elbow to prevent the spread of germs.
- Stay home if you’re sick. If you or a member of your family does get the flu, keep the sick person home to prevent them from infecting others. Keep in mind that the flu can be spread for up to seven days after the first signs of the infection.
With these tips and tricks, you can give your family the best chance to avoid both the flu and COVID-19 this coming flu season.