Last year’s flu season didn’t hit quite as hard as previous years, believed in part because of social distancing, masks and increased handwashing. But with Illinois on the cusp of another flu season, parents want to know what this year might look like.
Still, in the 2019-2020 flu season, 199 kids died, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
“We don’t know how serious this flu season is going to be,” says Dr. Tina Tan, an expert in infectious diseases and a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a pediatrician at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Already, she says, doctors are reporting respiratory illnesses normally seen in the winter and spring spill over into summer. That includes cases of RSV.
Tan says most hospitals are now using a respiratory test that tests for flu, COVID and RSV when kids come to them sick.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, which says kids are particularly hit with getting and spreading the flu, recently released its flu recommendations, urging that all kids 6 months and older get their flu shots this year.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to remember that influenza is also a highly contagious respiratory virus that can cause severe illness and even death in children,” says Flor Munoz, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement and technical report, developed by the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases, in a news release. “The flu vaccine is safe, effective and can be given alongside other routine immunizations and the COVID-19 vaccine.”
This year’s recommendations say kids 6 months through 8 years old receiving the flu shot for the first time, who have had one dose ever before July 1 or whose vaccination status is unknown, should be offered a shot as soon as it becomes available and should receive two doses four weeks apart by the end of October. Kids who only need one dose should also receive their shots before the end of October, it says.
Depending on their age and health, they can either receive a shot or nasal spray. Pregnant women should get a shot any time during their pregnancy to protect themselves and their baby and women who had not received a shot while pregnant should receive one before leaving the hospital after giving birth, AAP says.
AAP notes that kids with acute, moderate or severe COVID should wait for their flu shots until they have recovered, but that kids with mild illness can get their shot depending on their age.
“This year it will be especially important to keep our children healthy, as we’ve seen hospital beds and emergency services fill beyond capacity in communities where transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses remains high,” Dr. Munoz says in the release. “This means catching up on all immunizations, including the flu vaccine, and making sure children wash hands frequently, wear masks in school and during indoor group activities, and maintain physical distance from others.”
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