Parents of Childcare and K-12 Students

Flu Prevention at School

Teen boy at desk in a classroom blowing his nose with a tissue.

When children are close together, there is an increased risk that they will spread respiratory illnesses like the flu to each other. The risk is especially high among infants and toddlers, who are likely to share toys that may have been in their hands or mouths. Children are also more likely than adults to get sick from the flu and more likely to spread it to others, including their families. For children, flu is more dangerous than the common cold. Each year, many children get sick with seasonal flu; some of those illnesses result in death.
Getting the flu vaccine every year is the best way to prevent seasonal flu. Nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) can also help people protect themselves and others from getting and spreading the flu. NPIs are especially important during outbreaks of pandemic flu.

A pandemic flu outbreak occurs when a flu virus appears among people. Because it’s a new virus, people have little or no immunity to it. This allows the virus to spread quickly from person to person around the world. It may take months before an effective vaccine is developed.

  • What you can do personally (Personal NPIs): Stay home when you are sick. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Wash your hands often.
  • What communities can do (Community NPIs): Implement social distancing interventions in schools, workplaces, and at events.
  • What everyone can do to keep the environment germ-free (Environmental NPIs): Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects like door knobs.
  • CDC provides educational resources and training on how to incorporate personal, community, and environmental NPIs into your pandemic flu plans.

The actions you and your children take and the plans you make today make a difference. Here are some important steps to protect yourself, your children, and others from getting and spreading the flu at school.

What to do:

Young girl at home sick in bed.

Keep children home so that they can avoid spreading germs to others.

How long should I keep my sick child home?

  • If your child gets flu-like symptoms without a fever, keep him or her home at home to lower the chances of spreading the illness to others.
  • If your child has a fever, keep him or her home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicines, such as acetaminophen. This will help ensure that the fever is truly gone and that your child is past the point of being contagious.
  • Children with weakened immune systems may need to stay home longer.

Why is this important?

  • Children need rest to recover from illness. Without enough rest, it can take your child longer to feel better. Staying home is also important because your child can spread the flu virus up to 24 hours after symptoms are gone.
  • People with weakened immune systems often need even more time to recover and to stop being contagious.

What to do:

Young girl sick in bed.
  • Stay at least 3 feet away from sick people.

* During a flu pandemic *

  • Seek alternative ways for children to participate in gatherings, such as watching them on television or online, so that they can avoid face-to-face contact. This is especially important for children at high risk for flu complications.

Why is this important?

Droplets containing the flu virus can travel at least 3 feet, so staying at least this distance away from sick people can help lower the chance of your child becoming sick.

What to teach them:

Young girl blowing her nose with a tissue.
  • Make sure your children cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they cough or sneeze. Have them throw away the used tissue, and then wash their hands immediately.

* During a flu pandemic *

You may choose to have your children wear a facemask when they are sick to help lower the chances of spreading illness to others.

Why is this important?

Covering your coughs and sneezes with a tissue helps prevent the spread of the flu virus through the air and on your hands.

What to teach them:

Mother helping her daughter wash her hands in bathroom sink.
  • Make sure your children wash their hands thoroughly and often with soap and water.
  • If soap and water are not available, give them hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to clean their hands.
  • Teach them how important it is to wash their hands before touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.

Why is this important?

Washing your hands lowers the amount of flu virus that may spread when you shake hands with other people or touch surfaces and objects, such as desks and doorknobs.

What to do:

Mother cleaning in kitchen at home.

Clean surfaces and objects that are touched frequently, including desks, doorknobs, railings, computer keyboards, phones, and toys.

Does cleaning with soap and water remove the flu virus?

  • Yes, soap and water is all you need to remove the flu virus.
  • You can also use a bleach-and-water solution or disinfectant with a label that says “EPA approved” for killing bacteria and viruses. Always follow directions on product labels.

Why is this important?

The flu virus can remain on surfaces for up to 48 hours. Cleaning surfaces and objects that are frequently touched lowers the amount of flu virus that can be spread by touching an infected surface and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

What to do:

Emergency Preparedness Checklist
  • Get the seasonal flu vaccine for you and your children.
  • Keep informed about your local flu situation.
  • Keep informed about your child’s school and childcare attendance policies.
  • Know your employer’s sick-leave policies.

* During a flu pandemic *

  • Make plans for what to do in the event that your local public health department recommends closing schools or canceling events.
  • Get the pandemic flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available in your area.

Why is this important?

Knowing what precautions to take and where to go to get credible information will help you make plans to protect yourself, your children, and others.