5 Simple Ways To Help Your Family Stay Healthy During Flu Season

Pro tips for keeping your crew safe.

by Kate Brierley

The person in front of you in the supermarket checkout line starts coughing, or perhaps your kiddo comes off the bus conducting a symphony of sneezes when they were perfectly fine this morning. Whatever your specific trigger is, it’s safe to say that most everyone’s familiar with the ever-present anxiety that comes with cold and flu season. And no matter what that sniffle turns out to be, it doesn’t change the fact that your mind kicks into overdrive playing the age-old, “Is it allergies, a cold, or the flu?” game.

But before you spiral out of control trying to figure out how to navigate this season while already dealing with a global pandemic, rest assured knowing that Romper and Stanford Children's Health are here to help. We sat down with Alyssa Bianca Velasco, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children’s Health’s LPSR Pediatrics, to get her take on what to expect this cold and flu season, and she set the record straight while also offering smart tips to follow in the months ahead. From knowing the best time to get the flu shot to prioritizing your family’s mental health, here are this expert’s top five ways to protect your peeps this season.

1. Schedule Regular Wellness Checks

No matter your age, Velasco emphasizes that wellness checks are a big part of the better-health picture. If you haven’t already, take a few minutes to get your family’s annual doctor visits on the books. (Reminder that kids under 3 years old need more frequent check-ups — call your pediatrician’s office to learn more!)

“A lot of people put wellness checks off in 2020 for fear of going to the doctor’s office, but keeping these appointments is really important,” says Velasco. “Kids’ health in the early years sets the stage for their health later in life. Yearly appointments are an opportunity to address any questions or concerns about their health or development, and to catch any problems — and intervene early.”

2. Get The Flu Vaccine As Early As It’s Available

It’s recommended that everyone age 6 months and older receive the flu shot to protect themselves and those around them — especially those with weakened immune systems, like infants or the elderly. Velasco shares that although the vaccine is not 100 percent effective, it greatly reduces your risk of catching the virus, plus lowers the risk of flu-related complications for patients of all ages.

“The earlier you can get the vaccine for protection, the better,” Velasco tells Romper. “But ‘better late than never’ also applies, and it’s still beneficial [to get the shot] in January or even early spring.”

And because it’s a question that keeps popping up with her patients, Velasco wants to stress that the CDC now confirms it’s safe to get the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time.

3. Don’t Slack On COVID-19 Safety Protocols

According to Velasco’s experience, “Last flu season we saw a record low number of cases of the flu and this is partially due to the fact that people were social distancing and being very cautious.” This year, she says, it’s important to note that these existing COVID protocols can — and should — be applied to flu season as well.

Keeping up with regular hand washing, wearing a mask indoors around others, and maintaining physical distance when possible will help keep the cold and flu at bay. “It’s also still a good idea to disinfect doorknobs, toys if you have little ones around, and any surfaces that are touched regularly,” Velasco advises.

4. Separate Health Facts From Fiction

Make sure you’re addressing your cold and flu-related questions and concerns directly with your family’s doctors, and avoiding popularized misinformation that could steer you off-course. Common misconceptions that Velasco comes across are that the flu shot can actually give you the flu (it won’t), and that having egg allergies make you ineligible for the vaccine (they don’t).

Health-related rumors aside, she says it’s helpful for parents to offer a clear and honest landscape of what a doctor visit looks like. “Kids are often expecting something worse than the actual reality,” she notes. “I recently had a patient who thought I’d be putting the entire seven-inch COVID test swab in his nose! When he realized it was only the tip of it, he was really relieved.”

Being open can help ease anxiety for all involved, and showing your kiddo a video of someone getting a flu shot or offering a demo on a favorite stuffed animal can go a long way.

5. Make Mental Health Part Of The Conversation

Velasco notes that more folks than ever are asking for guidance around their family’s mental — and not just physical — well-being. She recommends prioritizing conversations around mental health with your providers and recognizing it as an important part of regular wellness checks, especially when it comes to your kids.

“The mental health of children and teens really suffered during the pandemic,” she shares. “It’s important to see your doctor because you develop a relationship with them and it can be a safe place to discuss things.”

Not only is mental health something your doctor can help advise on, but it’s a key part of staying happier, safer, and healthier this flu season and beyond.

To learn more, visit stanfordchildrens.org.