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06:01 AM

Does Back to School Mean Back to Flu?

Cedars-Sinai Pediatric Infectious Disease Expert Guides Parents on How to Navigate Flu Season

With children back in school, doctors expect the flu to make a comeback as well.

In 2020, when children stayed home and attended online classes, practiced social distancing and masked up, the flu appeared to take a year off. But experts like Santhosh Nadipuram, MD, a Cedars-Sinai pediatric infectious disease specialist, don’t expect that luck to hold during the 2021-2022 flu season.

"Kids will be sitting together, eating together, playing together, even sharing food, so we expect influenza to start circulation again," Nadipuram said.

Although many parents, teachers and administrators are focused on preventing COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, Nadipuram says it is important to not ignore the flu, especially because symptoms for both diseases are similar. Both COVID-19 and influenza can cause children to have symptoms like a fever and cough, and in some children, diarrhea and vomiting.

If a child comes down with symptoms, Nadipuram said it's crucial that they isolate and get tested for both flu and COVID-19.

Flu Prevention

There are steps parents can take to prevent the flu, said Nadipuram, the most important of which is to get your child a flu vaccine.

"Children over six months of age should get a flu shot," said Nadipuram. "This way, even if they come down with the flu, they will have a milder case."

The other preventive measures parents can take are the same things that can prevent the spread of COVID-19: Wear a mask in public and indoors, wash hands frequently, and prevent children from sharing food utensils and drinks.

This year, it will be difficult to predict what flu strain will be dominant and how severe a flu season it will be. As Nadipuram explains, the U.S. flu season comes after Australia’s because our summer is their winter flu season.

"Australia has been a wonderful bellwether in the past, and they keep excellent statistics and population data, so their influenza season has been consistently predictive of our influenza season," Nadipuram said.

This year however, Australians were still observing strict COVID-19 restrictions during their flu season. In a normal flu season, Australia would typically count hundreds of flu patients in their surveillance centers by now, but they have barely seen 10 so far this year.

Not being able to predict the severity of the flu this year means the most important prevention measure parents can make is simple, Nadipuram said. “Vaccinate. Flu vaccines are safe and effective and save thousands of lives every year.”

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Five Tips for a Safe Back to School During COVID-19