UPDATE: A second NJ child has died from flu-related complications. The child was from South Jersey. Flu levels are now high across all regions of the state. There have been 27 flu-related deaths in the US so far this year.
In case you haven’t gotten your flu shots yet, the NJ Department of Health is imploring people to get their flu shots ASAP this season. In recent weeks, cases of the flu have become widespread in the Garden State. Regionally, flu cases have skyrocketed in Northwest, Central West and South Jersey. Influenza B is the most common strain.
The scary reality is that kids die every year from flu-related complications, but this season has already seen a total of 19 pediatric deaths in the US, including one in NJ. Last year, three children in Elizabeth, North Bergen and Ocean County died from flu-related complications.
What does that mean for NJ parents? For starters, if you and your child haven’t gotten your shot 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 outbreak:
Get your flu shot. And make sure your kid and everyone who cares for your kid—the teenage 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 shows symptoms. Prescription antiviral medications you’ve heard about, such as Tamiflu (oseltamivir), might help. Prescription antiviral 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.”