Protecting Against Influenza (Flu): Advice for Caregivers of Young Children
Children younger than 5 years of age – especially those younger than 2 years old – are at high risk of 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 the flu among children in this age group 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 from fluid intake), worsening of long-term medical problems like heart disease or asthma, brain dysfunction such as encephalopathy, sinus problems and ear infections. In rare cases, flu complications can lead to death.
To help prevent flu, CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a yearly flu vaccine. Getting a yearly vaccine is especially important for young children because they are at increased risk of getting severe illness from flu.
Children younger than 6 months are at high risk of serious flu complications, but are too young to get a flu vaccine. Children younger than 6 months have the highest risk for being hospitalized from flu compared to children of other ages. Because influenza vaccines are not approved for children younger than 6 months old, protecting them from influenza is especially important. This fact sheet provides advice to help caregivers (for example, parents, teachers, babysitters, nannies) protect children younger than 6 months old from the flu.
1. Take Time to Get a Vaccine
- A flu vaccine is the first and best way to protect against the flu.
- If the child you care for is 6 months or older, they should get a flu vaccine each year.
- Infants younger than 6 months are at high risk for serious flu-related complications, but are not approved for influenza vaccination.
- As a caregiver to a young child, you should get a flu vaccine, and make sure that other caregivers and household members also get vaccinated each year. By getting vaccinated, you will be less likely to get the flu and therefore less likely to spread the flu to the child.
2. Take Everyday Preventive Actions
Certain everyday preventive actions – like covering your cough and frequent hand washing – can help keep germs from spreading.
Protect yourself and your infant by routinely taking these actions:
- Keep yourself and the child in your care away from people who are sick as much as you can.
- If you get the flu or flu symptoms, avoid contact with other people, including the child in your care when possible and if another caregiver is able to care for the child, 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.
- 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.
3. Antiviral Drugs Can Treat Flu Illness
- Antiviral drugs are available to treat flu in children and adults.
- Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics. They are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder) that are only for treatment of the flu.
- Antiviral drugs work best when treatment is started within 2 days of becoming sick with the flu. Antiviral treatment can make your illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They also may prevent serious flu complications.
- Treating people who are very sick with flu or who have a high risk factor with flu 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 children younger than 2 years, should be treated with flu antiviral drugs as soon as possible if they get sick with flu.
- Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within 2 days of getting sick, but starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person is at high risk for complications or is very sick from the flu. Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking these drugs.
Flu may cause fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting or diarrhea. Some persons with the flu may not have a fever. If you live with or care for a young child and you get the flu or get symptoms of the flu, follow the precautions below to help prevent the spread of illness to the child in your care.
1. Remember How the Flu Spreads
Flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching his or her own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.
2. Follow These Steps
If you get flu signs or symptoms – which can include a or feverishness, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache, fatigue, or sometimes vomiting and diarrhea – follow the precautions below:
- Check with your doctor or other health care professional. (If you have influenza, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications for you.)
- Try to minimize contact with the child in your care as much as possible.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing or coughing, and put your used tissue in a wastebasket.
- Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner frequently and as soon as possible if you have sneezed or coughed on your hands.
- Before engaging in any activity within about 6 feet of the child in your care (including feeding, changing, rocking, reading to your child) thoroughly wash and dry your hands. See more information about hand hygiene and Good Health Habits for Preventing Seasonal Flu.
- If the child in your care is younger than 2 years old or is unvaccinated, they are very vulnerable to the flu. Be especially careful to follow these steps around them.
- Take these precautions while you have flu symptoms and for 24 hours after your symptoms clear up.
3. Be Watchful
Observe the child in your care closely for symptoms of respiratory illness. If your child develops a fever*, has shallow, slow, or rapid breathing, or is less responsive than normal, contact your child’s doctor. If your child does become ill with flu, flu antiviral drugs can be used to treat children with influenza of all ages.
*Many authorities use either 100 (37.8 degrees Celcius) or 100.4 F (38.0 degrees Celsius) as a cut-off for fever, but this number actually can range depending on factors such as the method of measurement and the age of the person, so other values for fever could be appropriate.
- Page last reviewed: February 8, 2018
- Page last updated: February 8, 2018
- Content source:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD)
- Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs