There have been 15 flu-related deaths of children under the age of 18 this year, says the CDC, and more schools across the nation have also had to close because too many students and teachers have been calling in sick. So far, 40 states have seen outbreaks of the nasty flu virus.
In one district in Chattanooga, Tenn., more than 700 students and teachers called in sick. Shane Johnston, assistant director of schools for Rhea County, told NBC News the district was even running out of substitute teachers to come in. Norovirus, a form of stomach flu, has shut down schools all over the U.S. since January due to large outbreaks forcing the schools to close and be disinfected for one to three days before students could return.
The flu season typically lasts through early April, and the CDC recommends everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu shot. Both the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics say your kids should only receive the injectable vaccine (the FluMist, made from a weakened form of the virus, has been found to be ineffective). And although the injectable vaccine doesn't keep everyone from getting sick, if they do catch the flu after having the shot, it's likely to at least be a milder case.
Flu-related deaths of children aren't a new thing; since the 2004-2005 flu season, the number of children who have died from flu-related causes has ranged from a low of 37 in one year to a high of 171 in another year.
School-age kids and kids that go to daycare are most likely to catch the flu, and it's very contagious so it spreads quickly. For kids over the age of 4, there's a new option this year: a flu shot called Flucevax that protects against four strains of the virus, and is grown in a cell culture. Most other flu shots cover only three strains.
For those with egg allergies, there's good news as well. The CDC recently issued revised guidelines, saying that anyone allergic to eggs "can receive any age-appropriate" flu vaccine under the supervision of a health care provider who can assist in the case of an allergic reaction to the vaccine.
Although infants are too young to get the flu vaccine, making sure your other kids get vaccinated can help protect your baby. It's best to keep everyone in your house vaccinated, wash your hands regularly and keep sick visitors away until they're feeling better.
And, if you haven't gotten a flu shot yet, it's not too late for you either. It takes about two weeks after getting the shot for your antibodies to develop for the strains in your vaccine, so the sooner you can get a shot, the better.