October is a wonderful time of the year, especially for families with kids: cooler temperatures, pretty fall foliage, and of course, Halloween! However, parents also know that October is also usually the beginning of flu season. The flu virus starts making its way around in October and typically peaks during December through February, according to the CDC. When the flu season hits and your child or spouse gets sick, it can make the autumn season as well as the holiday season a lot less fun.
Why are fall and winter considered “flu season?”
Why does the flu seem more common in the winter? Many people think that it spreads more quickly when people are packed together indoors due to the cold. Think of people taking public transit or flying on planes for the holidays. Lots of kids share one classroom and spend most of the day together, and it only takes one of them to be sick for the virus to spread.
Another common theory is a weaker immune system. Days are shorter during the winter and people are outside less often. Because of this, people make less vitamin D, or melatonin. A slower immune response means you’ll get sick more easily, right?
However, lack of vitamin D and people crowding together aren’t the problem: it’s the virus itself. The influenza virus is more stable and long-lasting when the air is cold and dry. Flu viruses spread through the air, compared to the common cold, which is spread by direct contact. And when the air has low humidity and low temps, that means the virus particles stick around longer, making it easier to catch the flu.
Luckily, there are ways you can protect yourself and your kiddos during the flu season.
Protecting yourself and your kids against the flu
Kids younger than 5 years of age, and especially toddlers and babies younger than 2 years old, have a higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu. Pneumonia, dehydration, ear infections, sinus problems, and even life-threatening illnesses can arise from the flu.
A yearly flu vaccine can protect kids against the flu, reducing the risk of flu itself as well as flu-related complications. Children 6 months older, parents, family members, and caregivers can help prevent the spread of flu by getting vaccinated.
Staying aware from others who are sick and avoiding contact when you’re sick can help prevent the spread of flu. Remember to wash hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing. Use the crook of your elbow to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, to lessen the amount of germs released into the air. Even though the flu spreads through the air, other germs like the common cold spread through touch: try not to touch your face, especially your mouth, nose, and eyes.
What to do if you get the flu
People who get the flu sometimes feel some or all of these symptoms, which show up abruptly:
- Chills or feverish feeling
- Sore throat
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Body aches or muscle aches
- Vomiting and diarrhea (common in children)
If your child develops these flu symptoms, talk to your doctor. It’s especially important to call your doctor if they’re having trouble breathing, experiencing chest pain, have a fever, or are less responsive than normal. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medicine depending on the age and overall health of your child.
Most people recover from the flu in a few days to less than a couple weeks. Antiviral drugs can prevent serious flu-related complications, and can also shorten recovery periods.
If you or your child gets the flu, be sure to get plenty of bed rest and drink lots of fluid. Water, fruit juice, hot tea with honey, and warm soup can help you feel better and also prevent dehydration. Breathing moist air from steamy baths or a humidifier can soothe the throat and help with congestion. Remember to stay home and away from others to stop the flu from spreading as much as possible.