Protect Your Children From Flu

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

You've done your homework, researching and interviewing to find the best care for your child, but is your caregiver - nanny, babysitter, daycare worker or family member - protected against the flu?

Flu takes a big toll on young children. Each year in the United States, an average of 20,000 children younger than 5 are hospitalized because of flu-related complications. As many as 1 in 5 children under age 5 may have to see the doctor, visit the ER or other urgent care for treatment for flu. And tragically, around 100 children die from this serious disease each year.

This year, a Minnesota child was the first flu-related child death of the 2008-2009 flu season, according to the CDC. The death occurred during the week ending Dec. 20, 2008.

It's to prevent such tragedies that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children older than 6 months get vaccinated against the flu. CDC also recommends that close contacts, especially family members and caregivers, of children younger than 5 get a flu vaccine each year to provide added protection to this high-risk group.

Though it's the elderly who suffer the most fatalities from the flu, young children can be hospitalized more frequently than their elderly counterparts, with the infection leading to serious, and sometimes fatal, complications.


"Young children are very susceptible to the flu because they have limited or no prior exposure and immunity in their short lives," said Dr. Adrienne LeBailly, director of the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment. "They may also gather in groups in schools and daycare centers where the virus is easily passed from one child to another."

LeBailly points out that children under 6 months are too young to receive the flu vaccine, but they are among the most vulnerable to develop serious, even fatal, complications from flu. This makes vaccination of their close contacts, including babysitters, day care providers and grandparents, especially critical.

"To significantly decrease your child's chances of getting the flu, we encourage parents, all family members, and caregivers to get vaccinated if they haven't already," said LeBailly. "It's not too late to receive a vaccine and Larimer County Health Department still has plenty available." Flu season usually peaks in February and lasts through March and sometimes later.

The flu is a contagious respiratory disease that can cause symptoms such as high fever, sore throat, coughing, extreme tiredness, runny or stuffy nose, and sometimes nausea and diarrhea in children. It spreads easily from person to person.

"Vaccination is the single best protection against the flu," says LeBailly. Other defenses against catching or transmitting flu include frequent handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, avoiding people who are sick, and staying home when you are sick.

"This is a disease that can have serious to fatal consequences," said LeBailly. "We are fortunate to have a safe, effective and relatively inexpensive vaccine that can prevent it. It's a tragedy when anybody, but especially a child, dies of a disease we can usually prevent with just a simple shot."