Children younger than 5 years old– especially those younger than 2– are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications. CDC estimates that since 2010, flu-related hospitalizations among children younger than 5 years ranged from 7,000 to 26,000 in the United States. Many more have to go to a doctor, an urgent care center, or the emergency room because of flu.
Complications from flu among children can include:
- pneumonia (an illness where the lungs get infected and inflamed),
- dehydration (when a child’s body loses too much water and salts, often because fluid losses are greater than fluid intake),
- worsening of long-term medical problems like heart disease or asthma,
- brain dysfunction,
- sinus problems, and ear infections.
In rare cases, flu complications can lead to death.
Children Younger Than 6 Months Old at Highest Risk
Children younger than 6 months have the highest risk for being hospitalized from flu compared to children of other ages but are too young to get a flu vaccine. Because flu vaccines are not approved for use in children younger than 6 months old, protecting them from flu is especially important.
Advice on How to Fight Flu for Caregivers of Children Younger than 5 Years Old
- Take Time to Get a Vaccine
- A yearly flu vaccine is the first and best way to protect against flu.
- Flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization and death in children.
- If the child you care for is 6 months or older, they should get a flu vaccine each year.
- As a caregiver to a young child, you should get a flu vaccine, and make sure that other caregivers and all household members aged 6 months and older also get vaccinated each year. By getting vaccinated, you will be less likely to get flu and therefore less likely to spread flu to the child.
Take Everyday Preventive Actions
- Keep yourself and the child in your care away from people who are sick as much as you can.
- If you get flu symptoms, avoid contact with other people when possible, including the child in your care. Consider arranging for another caregiver to care for the child if possible, so that you don’t make them sick.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze—throw the tissue away after you use it, and wash your hands.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. If you are not near water, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
- Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs often spread this way.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, especially when someone is ill.
Antiviral Drugs Can Treat Flu Illness
- Antiviral drugs are available to treat flu in children and adults.
- Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten illness duration. They also may prevent serious flu complications.
- Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics that treat bacterial infections. They are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder) that are for treatment of the flu.
- Antiviral drugs work best when treatment is started within 2 days of becoming sick with flu, but starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person is very sick with flu or is at high risk of serious flu complications. Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking or giving these drugs.
- Treating people who are very sick with flu or who are at high risk of complications from the flu with antiviral drugs can mean the difference between having a milder illness versus a very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.
- CDC recommends that people at high risk of serious flu complications, including young children, should be treated with flu antiviral drugs as soon as possible if they get sick with flu.
- Although all children younger than 5 years old are considered at high risk for complications from flu, the highest risk is for those younger than 2 years old, with the highest hospitalization and death rates among infants younger than 6 months old.
Snippet from: Protect Against Flu: Caregivers of Infants and Young Children from cdc.gov/flu