Image of a happy mom and toddler

By Abi Berwager Schreier

After enjoying a fun date night out at a movie and dinner, you and your partner return home and find that the babysitter doesn’t look quite as chipper as they did when you left. Did your kid really run the babysitter that ragged, or was it something else? Before leaving, your babysitter informs you they’re starting to feel achy and let out a huge sneeze. Uh oh. So before you kick yourself for not spraying down their body with Lysol before you left, you may be wondering how to protect your kids from the flu with a babysitter around. You have to be able to leave the house sometimes and unless everyone begins living in a bubble, how are we supposed to protect ourselves and our families from this virus that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has been the most brutal and widespread in years?

Dr. Gina Posner, a pediatrician at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells Romper that once your babysitter leaves, “You can definitely clean all the surfaces with sanitizing wipes, but, hopefully your babysitter would have cancelled if they had the flu.” It’s especially important right now that your babysitter cancels if he or she has the flu because “the flu season this year has been brutal thus far and is widespread in almost all 50 states per the CDC. The flu (influenza) can be very serious, especially in children under 5 years of age and particularly in those under 2 years of age,” says Dr. Tristan Truong, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Medical Group in San Juan, Capistrano California in an interview with Romper. “Children who have underlying chronic medical conditions (asthma, diabetes, heart defects, neurological disease, weakened immune system, etc.) are also at high risk for flu complications,” he adds.

Whether it’s right after your babysitter leaves or just general household cleanliness, remember, “the flu virus can survive on hard surfaces up to 24 hours, so common household cleaning products, including those containing chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, iodine, or soap may be used to clean counters and objects to help reduce the spread of the virus,” according to Truong.

Other ways to try to prevent contracting or spreading the flu during flu season include avoiding crowded, enclosed places and wearing a mask if you do feel sick to avoid spreading the virus, Truong notes. A mask can also be worn to avoid inhaling the virus if you're around sick individuals. If you think you might have the flu or are confirmed to have the flu, it's time to avoid day care and school, too. Additionally, he recommends getting the flu vaccine, and that even though it’s not perfect, it’s the best way to minimize the risks of catching the flu virus. Posner also recommends wiping down shopping carts before you use them and teaching your kid to cover their mouth with their elbow when they cough and sneeze so they don’t have germs all over their hands.

Some natural ways to boost your family’s immune system, according to Posner, include “making sure that they get enough sleep at night" and a healthy diet filled with lots of fruits and veggies. There is also a small study on elderberry supplements helping to shorten the course of the flu, Posner explains. “I have my kids on elderberry, but the study showing it works is only small. There don’t seem to be any harmful effects to taking it (unless you are allergic), so that is what I have been recommending.”

If you’ve done all of these things to disinfect after the babysitter leaves or everything in your power to prevent the flu generally, and you or your child still get it, what are some signs that you should head to the emergency room? Dr. Marc Taub, medical director of emergency services at Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, tells Romper it’s when you or your child exhibit symptoms of “difficulty breathing, uncontrollable vomiting and inability to keep down fluids, confusion, unexplained rashes, severe headache or fevers not responding to OTC medications, lethargy or extreme irritability (in a child), severe abdominal pain, or stroke or heart attack symptoms.”

However, don’t fear, because “most generally healthy people with the flu will have mild or moderate illness and won’t necessarily need to see a doctor or take prescription flu medications. For most, treatment includes staying home until better, drinking plenty of fluids, and using over-the-counter medications to reduce symptoms. If in doubt, call your physician, nurse advice line, or visit a local urgent care,” Taub says. “High-risk” groups of people include pregnant women, nursing home residents, patients with weakened immune systems, or patients with chronic medical conditions like asthma, COPD, heart, liver, or kidney disease, or diabetes. Again, as far as high-risk children go, Truong says it can be very serious in children under 5 years old, and particularly under 2.

Hopefully your babysitter will cancel if he or she is feeling under the weather, or even worse, has flu symptoms. But if they come down with something suddenly, you can rest easy if your family has been vaccinated, isn’t considered high risk, and you have a hefty supply of sanitizing wipes and sprays. Preemptively encouraging good hand-washing skills wouldn’t hurt either.