SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Health experts are warning that this year’s flu season could be the worst we’ve seen in decades.

Some of the biggest spreaders of the virus are school-aged kids. That’s why local pediatricians say vaccinating children is especially important ahead of what will likely be an intense flu season. 

Dr. Ben Spitalnick with the Pediatric Associates of Savannah said data on the flu season already underway in other countries shows that it’s been particularly intense for children.

“We have not seen a flu season the last two years in a row,” Spitalnick said.

Health experts say Australia experienced its worst flu season in nearly two decades this year, with a lot of the spread happening among children.

Local pediatricians warn something similar could happen in the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry.

“Prior to COVID, this was the number one vaccine-preventable cause of death in the United States,” Spitalnick said. “Most of those deaths are the elderly, but most of the vector, most of the spread is the pediatric is the child population, and we go home to our parents and grandparents and that’s how it spreads.”

Most school districts across Georgia rolled back on COVID safety protocols to welcome kids back to the classroom this year. While it’s a positive indication that COVID numbers are down, doctors warn that two years of masks and social distancing lowered our immunity to the flu.

“It’s significant because children are the vector of spread,” Spitalnick said. “The last two years, with our social distancing, with our masks, for good or bad reasons, it put away a lot of typical seasonal illnesses, this year we’re not having that kind of protection.”

Health experts said parents need to remember even if their child tests negative for COVID that doesn’t mean it’s safe to send them to school.

“Don’t just assume if your child has a negative home COVID test that that means they’re okay to return to school, think about their symptoms,” Spitalnick said. “If they have a fever, if they have a cough that’s lingering, if they’ve lost their appetite, if they’re not sleeping well, those are all reasons to stay home and or go see your pediatrician.”

With experts predicting an earlier start to this year’s flu season pediatricians say it’s important to protect your kids against the virus sooner rather than later. 

“What you worry about is kids having to miss school, kids having to miss sports, kids having to be in the doctors office or even worse and that’s what we want to prevent. A simple flu shot early in the season really reduces the risk of a significant flu surge.”

Spitalnick says it’s never too early to check in with your pediatrician and schedule an appointment to get either the flu shot or nasal spray.