Flu Season is Hitting Hard in NJ: Here’s How to Protect Your Kids
This season has already seen a total of 84 pediatric deaths, including 3 from NJ.
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A third child in New Jersey, this one from Elizabeth, has died after being diagnosed with the flu, according to northjersey.com, though the main cause of death is still undetermined.
"While it has been confirmed that the student had been diagnosed with influenza, it remains unclear whether or not the virus was the primary contributing factor to the child's passing," Elizabeth Public Schools Superintendent Olga Hugelmeyer wrote in a letter to parents.
A 6-year-old child from North Bergen died from complications stemming from the flu last week. And a 5-year-old child from Ocean County who died in December was NJ's first reported flu-related death, northjersey.com reports. The scary reality is that kids die every year from flu-related complications, but this season has already seen a total of 84 pediatric deaths, including the 3 deaths in NJ.
Though flu season peaked early in NJ, it’s hard to tell how bad it will get. “We cannot assess the severity or intensity of this year’s flu season compared to years past until the year is complete,” Jason Kessler, MD, chief of infectious disease at Morristown Medical Center, told New Jersey Family. Nevertheless, all signs point to a brutal season. DoctorsReport.com ranked the New York/Newark/Jersey City area among the worst metro areas for the flu (a 9.5 on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most severe.
What does that mean for NJ parents? For starters, if you and your child haven’t gotten your flu vaccination yet, it’s not too late. It takes about two weeks for immunity to kick in, but you’ll still get benefits because flu season can last until May most years. Even more important: A 2017 study in Pediatrics says the vaccine significantly reduces the risk of flu-related deaths in kids.
Here’s what to do to keep everyone healthy during this year’s flu outbreak:
Get your flu shot. And make sure your kid and everyone who cares for your kid—the teenaged babysitter, Grandma and Grandpa—has theirs, too. The NJ Department of Health lists where you can go. Even if the vaccine is not perfect, it provides some protection against the virus.
Call your pediatrician ASAP if your child has flu symptoms. If your kid does come down with the flu, prescription antiviral medications you’ve heard about, such as Tamiflu (oseltamivir), might help. Prescription anti-viral medications can lessen the symptoms and shorten the duration of the flu. They’re most effective when taken within the first 48 hours of symptoms, so don’t delay. “The oral or liquid medication, oseltamivir, is approved for use in children of all ages, including infants,” says Kessler. “The second medication, zanamivir, is inhaled and is only approved for use in older kids.” The most common side effects are nausea and vomiting, according to the CDC.
Stay home. If you’re sick or your child is ill, don’t spread the virus. And don’t send kids back to school and other activities until they’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing meds like Tylenol.
Stop the spread. If one of your kids is ill, keep him or her away from the rest of the family in a separate room. Wipe down commonly-touched surfaces such as light switches, doorknobs, appliance handles, computer keyboards, and toys with disinfectant wipes. Remind kids not to share cups and utensils with anyone. And yes, here’s one time it’s absolutely fine to nag: Make sure everyone is washing his or her hands. There’s no such thing as hands that are too clean during flu season.
Watch for complications. “Signs of more severe complications from flu that parents should be on the lookout for include difficulty breathing, seizures, severe lack of energy or the inability or unwillingness to eat or drink,” says Kessler. “Call your pediatrician with any concerns or if you are uncomfortable with how your child is feeling.”