HomeArticlesAsk a pediatrician: How to stay safe this flu season

Ask a pediatrician: How to stay safe this flu season

What can pregnant moms do to stay safe this flu season? Are there complications if the flu is contracted during pregnancy?

  • Staying healthy while pregnant includes universal masking indoors, avoiding people who are sick, good hand hygiene and making sure you’re up to date on your vaccines. Special vaccines to remember include your annual flu shot, pertussis booster and the COVID-19 vaccine. These vaccines are safe and can help to keep a pregnant mom safe during flu season.
  • During previous flu seasons, the flu vaccine helps to decrease a pregnant mom’s risk of respiratory infection by about one-half. It has the additional benefit of reducing a pregnant mom’s risk of being hospitalized with the flu by about 40%.
  • The flu shot also helps to protect your baby after birth and through the first several months when the baby is too young to get the flu vaccine.
  • During pregnancy and immediately after birth, your immune system, heart and lung functions change. These changes are normal but it means that these mom’s can get severely ill (really sick) from the flu. Pregnant and postpartum moms (2 weeks after delivery) are at higher risk for being hospitalized from a flu infection.  We know the flu shot helps to keep people healthy.

We have a new baby and older siblings–how do we prevent the baby from getting sick?
Congratulations on the new baby!  Newborn babies need parents to keep them safe until their immune system is stronger. Full-term babies (babies born at 37 weeks or later), need extra protection during the first 1-2 months of life. (Premature babies need special protection even longer). The best way to keep your new baby safe is to avoid group gatherings, avoid sick visitors, good hand hygiene and updated vaccines for everyone in close contact with the baby.

When older siblings want to love on the baby, I recommend good hand hygiene and avoiding kissing the baby’s head. I recommend kissing the baby’s feet instead since the baby won’t be able to get their feet to their mouth. If a sibling is sick, do your best to keep them separated (I know it’s tough!). Lots of good hand washing for everyone.  Encourage the sibling to cough into their elbow and lots of good hand hygiene. If the sibling is over 6 months old, then they should receive their yearly flu shot to help keep the baby safe.

Should families get the flu and COVID vaccines at the same time?
Yes, you can get both vaccines at the same time. Talk to your pediatrician or primary care doctor about these immunizations.

Anyone 6 months or older is eligible for the flu vaccine. Currently the Covid vaccine is available to those 12 and over.

Who is at risk this flu season? How dangerous is it?
Flu infections can be seen in healthy adults and children of all ages but we know there are certain groups and health factors that can make you more susceptible to having serious complications and a higher chance of needing to be hospitalized. Those at increased risk include children 5 years and younger, adults over 65 years old, pregnant women and residents of nursing homes or other long-term care facilities. Health factors such as lung conditions (like asthma, chronic lung disease), metabolic disorders (including diabetes), liver, kidney, neurologic and neurodevelopmental conditions, blood disorders (including sickle cell), weakened immune system and obesity can increase your risk for severe disease.

For our pediatric population (those under 18 years old), we know that children under 2 years of age have the highest number of hospitalizations and those under 6 months of age have the highest reported death rates. Luckily, flu related deaths are rare but we know that about 80% of those children who died were not fully vaccinated. (4 out of 5 children who died were not fully vaccinated)

Since Arizona is warmer than other states, does the flu season start later?
Predicting the annual flu season is very challenging.  Our flu season can be earlier or later than the east coast but it is not very predictable. Past flu seasons have started as early as October or November and sometimes last until May. In Arizona, we usually see the highest number of flu cases between December and February.

The kids love to spend time with their grandparents but I know older people are more likely to have complications from COVID and the flu. Should we avoid spending time with them?

  • We love grandparents and they are an essential part of our village. To help protect everyone in our village and community, we have to work together. We know that adults 65 and older have a higher chance of  complications from both the flu and Covid. We also know the flu and Covid vaccines can help provide protection. In Arizona, 91% of those 65 and over have received at least one Covid shot. Now that the flu shot is available, these two vaccines will help decrease risk of infection and spread of illness for everyone.
  • In addition to vaccines, it is very important to stay home when you’re sick or keep kids away from others when they are sick. This helps to prevent the spread of many viruses (not just the flu and Covid).  Handwashing is another step that helps us to prevent illness by limiting the spread of germs.
  • The Covid pandemic taught us how to prevent illness with multiple layers of protections – masks, social distancing, hand washing, vaccines and staying home when you’re sick.  During the flu season we can use the same game plan to keep everyone healthy.

In addition to vaccines, is there anything we can do to prevent getting sick this year?
Keeping kids and adults home when you are sick, universal masking indoors, good hand hygiene and making sure you’re up to date on your vaccines is the best way to stay healthy.

Making healthy lifestyle choices – food, exercise and sleep are also important. We want to give our body the right fuel and rest so it can perform at the top of our game.

I’ve read this flu season will be worse than we’ve seen in a while, what should we expect?
Unlike last year, we expect a “normal” flu season. It’s difficult to predict the severity of the flu season but we know it is coming and we know how to prevent severe illness.  We know that giving our bodies time to have proper immunity is important. It takes the flu shot at least 2 weeks to start working, so it is important to get your flu shot early. For children 6 months to 8 years old, they will need 2 flu shots (1 month apart) during their first flu shot year, so you want to make sure they have extra time to build up their immune system.

What didn’t I ask that you’d like to add?
Your pediatrician (or primary care doctor) is here to help! We want to keep you healthy and safe. Be sure to get caught up on healthy check ups and vaccines that might have been missed over the last year of craziness. Vaccines help prevent many other dangerous diseases. Your doctors are here to help you stay healthy and safe!

Dr. Sarah Bannister has been providing care as a Pediatric Hospitalist since 2012. She completed her pediatric residency at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix and served as a Chief Resident at Phoenix Children’s Hospital after the programs were combined in 2011. She is board certified in General Pediatrics and Pediatric Hospital Medicine.

As a Pediatric Hospitalist, she is part of a team that cares for inpatient admissions and newborns at Banner Desert and Banner Gateway Medical Centers.  Dr. Bannister has served as the Chair of Pediatric Medicine at Banner Gateway and Banner Children’s at Desert in addition to the Physician lead for the Pediatric Hospitalists at Banner Children’s at Banner Desert. Currently, she is the Medical Director of Care Coordination at Banner Ocotillo Medical Center and Banner Children’s at Desert.  Dr. Bannister has a deep commitment to high quality evidence-based care.  She believes that advocacy, equity and excellent care is essential to the success of our patients and profession.

Dr. Bannister has spent the majority of her life in Arizona and completed her undergraduate education at the University of Arizona (Go Wildcats!).  She enjoys baking and spending time with her family. She has 3 active boys, a husband and 2 dogs that keep her busy.

Raising Arizona Kids partners with the Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to bring evidence-based child-health information to our communities.



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