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The most recent data shows at least 4.6 million people across the United States have come down with the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those, 39,000 were hospitalized.
It's normal for flu cases to increase at this time of year, and, like every year, it's important to be vigilant. So far this season, 2,100 people have died from the flu. At least 22 of those deaths were children. That number is likely to grow. During recent past flu seasons, up to 187 children have died from the flu.
Babies and young children are at high risk for complications from the flu because their immune systems are still developing. Flu complications can include pneumonia, dehydration, brain dysfunction, and, in rare cases, death.
Pregnant women are also more vulnerable than the general population to flu virus complications. That's because pregnancy suppresses the immune system, and your heart and lungs are working harder than normal to support you and your growing baby.
The good news is that you can significantly reduce your own and your child's chances of catching the flu by ensuring everyone in your family who's old enough gets a flu shot. You can get the flu vaccine even if you're pregnant. In fact, getting a flu shot during pregnancy will allow your baby to develop antibodies that protect him against the flu as well once he's born.
Babies younger than 6 months can't get a flu shot, however. If you have a young baby, here's how to protect him:
- Practice good hygiene such as washing hands frequently, disinfecting countertops and toys, and coughing and sneezing into a tissue.
- Keep your baby away from others who are sick.
- Inform your pediatrician promptly if your baby's been exposed to someone with flu. Your pediatrician may want to give your baby preventive antiviral medication.
It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to take effect, so it's best to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Read on for more information about flu in babies and young children, and the flu during pregnancy.
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