Flu Season Is Winding Down, But Experts Say Young Kids Are Still At Risk — Here's Why

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This year's flu season has been particularly severe, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting 133 child deaths in the 2017-18 season alone. Fortunately, the peak of flu season has passed. But even at the end of flu season, experts urge that parents with young children still be on alert, as CNN reported this weekend, as a second strain of the virus may keep them at risk.

The flu season in the United States occurs each year during the fall and winter, with its peak occurring anywhere between late November and March. The flu kills between 12,000 and 59,000 people in the United States each year and lands as many as 700,000 in the hospital, according to NBC News. CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund told TIME earlier this month that the data suggests this year's flu season appears to have peaked in early February, but that doesn't mean that flu season is over. “Even though it looks like flu activity is decreasing in some parts of the country, there’s still a lot of it out there,” she told the publication. “We’re not out of the woods yet. It’s likely that we’ll probably see flu activity through the middle of April.”

The H3N2 strain of the influenza virus, considered an influenza A virus, which has shown to be resistant to vaccines, remains the dominant strain this season, according to the CDC. Such influenza A viruses are on the decline, according to CNN, but influenza B viruses are on the rise. That means that more influenza B infections could be reported in the near future. As it is possible to get sick with both A and B viruses, those who were previously diagnosed with H3N2 are not out of the woods yet.

Children, in particular, may be at risk of catching the second strain. Nordlund told CNN that influenza B should not be taken lightly:

We know that illness associated with influenza B can be just as severe as illness associated with influenza A. We also know that influenza B tends to be more severe for younger children.

CDC officials are maintaining their recommendation that anyone who has yet to receive a flu show do so before the season ends — especially children. However, if you have already gotten your shot, there is no need to get a second one, according to CNN.

Aside from the vaccine, the CDC has a list of recommendations to reduce your risk of infection and your risk of spreading the disease. First, avoid close contact with anyone who is sick. If you are sick, stay home from school, work, and errands to lessen the spread of the disease. Keeping your nose and mouth covered when coughing or sneezing, as well as regularly washing your hands and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, all help to keep germs from spreading.

The CDC also recommends practicing other good health habits before, during, and after flu season to reduce your risk of getting sick overall. You should clean and disinfect any surfaces that are frequently touched, such as doorknobs and countertops — especially when someone is sick. Getting enough sleep, remaining physically active, managing stress levels, drinking lots of water, and eating healthy foods all go a long way towards keeping you and your children happy and healthy.

Flu season can be a stressful time for families and the 2017-18 season was no exception. With the arrival of springtime, the risk of contracting the disease is on its way out. But that doesn't mean that parents should ease up on their vigilance to keep their little ones from catching the flu. Making healthy habits and hygiene a part of your regular routine will go a long way towards fighting off infection year round. And, as always, get your flu shot.

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