Warning: The 2018 flu is extra tough on babies, kids

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Buckle up, mamas. This year’s flu strain is particularly scary for babies and children under 5. The Centers for Disease Control is reporting that the H3N2 strain has infected four times as many Americans as were sick with the flu this time last year. At the publication date, 45 states are reporting widespread infectious outbreaks.

The CDC also reports that this year’s vaccine isn’t nearly as effective as in years past. That, coupled with a shortage of IV bags—used to rehydrate flu patients in emergency rooms and hospitals—is adding up to one tough outbreak season.

During any flu season, babies, young children, and seniors are at particularly high risk for flu complications. But this year, is proving to be even worse than most with 13 pediatric deaths already reported across the country.

Keep calm—and healthy

So what can parents do, aside from panic? Get the flu shot for themselves and any little ones 6 months of age and older. Even when flu season is in full swing, it’s not too late to get vaccinated. Talk to your child’s pediatrician—or visit a pharmacy.

“Even if you get the flu, with a vaccine, it’s more mild, you’re less likely to go to the hospital, and you’re contagious for a less amount of time,” Dr. Jennifer Layden, chief medical officer at the Illinois Department of Public Health, told CBS News.

Other measures for keeping healthy this season?

  • Wash your hands and your children’s hands often. Use soap and water and scrub for 20 seconds (mom tip: teach your little ones to sing the alphabet while they wash).
  • If you can’t get to a sink, use an alcohol-based sanitizer
  • Disinfect frequently used items such as cell phones, sink handles, and doorknobs regularly
  • Steer clear of sick people (obviously) and if someone in your family falls ill, try to keep them comfortably separate until symptoms subside
  • If you or your children get sick, don’t add to the problem. Stay home from work and school for a full 24 hours after your symptoms go away

‘Will the flu shot make me sick?’

Ok, back to the flu vaccine: Talk to a group of people and you’re bound to find at least one person who swears up and down that the flu vaccine has given them the flu. Please note that this doesn’t happen. The flu vaccine administered is an inactivated—or dead—virus. The CDC explains that people who develop the flu after being vaccinated may actually be sick with a respiratory virus similar to the flu and not the influenza virus itself. Or, they may have been infected with the flu virus before receiving the vaccine.

No matter the case, it’s important to remember that each year’s flu vaccine is the first safeguard against contracting the illness. Even without 100 percent efficacy, the vaccine provides a measure of protection and is your best chance for staying healthy until the spring arrives.

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