Health officials are reporting widespread influenza outbreaks in 47 of 50 states, up from just a week ago. One age group hit particularly hard is children, and the American Red Cross has some steps parents can teach their kids to help them avoid getting sick.

Washing hands

Kids have a way of picking up colds and other illnesses. Parents should teach children proper hand-washing techniques and how to correctly cover coughs or sneezes. Wash hands with soap and warm water. When using soap and water: Wash for at least 20 seconds, covering the entire hand, including fingernails and under jewelry.

Younger children can be taught to sing a short song like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," or the "Happy Birthday" song a few times, which will ensure they wash for at least 20 seconds.

Rinse and dry thoroughly with a disposable towel. Use the towel to turn off the faucet.

If using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer: Rub thoroughly over the entire hand, including nail areas and between the fingers. Continue to rub until the product dries.

Safety steps

The most important thing parents can do is get children 6 months of age or older a flu vaccine as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. Children's caregivers should also get vaccinated. Other steps parents can take include keeping surfaces disinfected and keeping a sick person in a separate room in the household if possible.

If the child becomes ill

If a child gets sick, parents should consult their doctor.


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They should also make sure their child gets plenty of rest and fluids. If the child is breathing fast or having trouble breathing, has bluish or gray skin color, refuses to drink, is vomiting, is irritable or has trouble staying awake, parents should get the child medical help right away.

Information on what to do if someone has the flu is available on the free Red Cross First Aid mobile app available for iPhone and Android devices. Visit redcross.org/flutips for information.