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Protecting your immunocompromised child: Eight ways to prevent flu and COVID-19 during the pandemic

Protecting children from seasonal illness is a concern every flu season, but the COVID-19 pandemic prompts additional worry, especially for parents of immunocompromised children. 

While the full effects of the coronavirus are unknown, the majority of healthy children do recover well. How the coronavirus affects children with underlying health conditions varies widely and cases of Multisystem Inflammatory System (MIS-C) have been reported

The possibility also exists for children to contract multiple viruses that affect the respiratory system this flu season. Prevention, especially during a pandemic, is the best strategy.  

Here are eight ways to help prevent the spread of viruses this fall and beyond:

  • Keep your scheduled appointments and stay up-to-date on immunizations: Do not skip your child’s regularly scheduled well child checkups. Telehealth visits may be available for routine care, but you will still need to visit your provider in person for vaccinations. Follow the age-appropriate vaccine schedule your pediatrician recommends, in keeping with federal guidelines.

  • Get immunized against the flu: The flu vaccine is available for anyone over 6 months of age and is recommended as the best way to prevent the flu. Vaccinating caretakers, siblings and family members can also help protect babies too young to be vaccinated and children whose underlying illness does not allow them to be vaccinated. Talk with your doctor about the pneumonia vaccine as well if your child is particularly susceptible to respiratory illness.

  • Keep your prescriptions refilled: Let your doctor know if you need a prescription refill in the near future. While there’s no need to stockpile medications, cleaning supplies or personal protective equipment, it is a good idea to have what you need on-hand.

  • Stay home when sick: Avoid spreading illness by keeping your child home from school or daycare if she or he is sick. Symptoms of the flu can include fever, congestion, digestive upset, fever or chills. Losing your sense of smell, headache, coughing and fever are symptoms of COVID-19. Avoid others who are sick. 

  • Use hand washing best practices: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands frequently throughout the day. Remember to wash the hands of young children in your care. Remind older children to wash their hands well, with best practices in mind.

The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital also has a simple video you can watch with your children.

Although washing your hands is an ideal first defense, hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol can be an alternative when it’s impossible to use soap and water. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently updated its list of recalled hand sanitizers to more than 70 varieties. Find the latest list of products to discard here.

  • Practice social distancing: Parents of immunocompromised children should take precautionary measures regarding contact with others. Limit contact with individuals who do not live in your household. Avoid crowds and postpone unessential travel. Stay at least six feet away from others when possible. 

  • Wear a mask when in public: Masks are recommended for all children ages 3 and up for use in public during the pandemic as a proven method to help slow the transmission of COVID-19. Masks work by limiting exposure, especially when an individual does not show symptoms but can unknowingly infect others. Masks reduce the spread of the virus for others as well as the person wearing the mask. 

  • Sanitize high-touch surfaces daily: Tables, chairs, countertops and sinks are some of the high-touch areas commonly found in households that should be cleaned every day. Light switches, door knobs and other areas frequently used after going out should be cleaned, too. Put items aside for 72 hours if you’re concerned about surface exposure on items like books, which are difficult to sanitize. A bleach solution or other cleaner with approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will kill certain viruses when used properly. Essential oils, vinegar products and other homemade solutions are not proven to disinfect in the same way as these agents.

If you have questions about how to keep from getting sick, talk with your pediatrician or healthcare provider.

About Dr. Coffey:

Dr. Michael Coffey is a board-certified pediatrician at The Children's Center Rehabilitation Hospital in Bethany. He graduated from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and completed his residency at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center. Dr. Coffey is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association. He was awarded the title of “best pediatrician” in the 2020 Oklahoman Readers’ Choice Awards. He and his wife, Sarissa, are the parents of two sons.


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