It’s that time of the year. Flu season is upon us once again! In St. Louis, we are already seeing Influenza B cases in the emergency rooms and clinics.
Flu season comes around regularly. Some years it is worse than the others. The CDC reports that each year about 20,000 children younger than 5 years of age are hospitalized from flu complications, like pneumonia. As a pediatrician and mother, flu season means it’s busy at work and I’m trying not to bring the infection home!
I also make sure my daughter has received the flu vaccine, since “prevention is better than cure.” That being said, the one year my daughter (now 15) actually got the flu when she was 8, was the year she did get the vaccine (like every year). Just goes to say, the vaccine is effective, but there are no guarantees.
Influenza (flu) is an infection of the nose, throat and lungs caused by the influenza virus. It can occur anytime, but most influenza cases are seen from October through May. The virus spreads mainly by droplets made when infected people sneeze, cough or talk. When these droplets enter the mouth or nose of a healthy person, it can cause the infection. You can also get the infection by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your own mouth or nose. How do you know your child may be coming down with the flu? When the sniffles set in and the throat becomes sore, your child has body aches and headaches, and the temperature starts rising … Oh, you’ll know! Your little ones can also experience nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea.
I look at tackling flu as three main areas of work- prevention, supportive care (rest, fluids and fever management) and being able to recognize complications promptly.
Prevention includes vaccination and healthy habits to prevent the spread of germs.
The Flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months and older.
The flu shot is an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle, usually in the arm. The 2014-2015 seasonal flu vaccine will protect against the three influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season, including the 2009 H1N1 and two other influenza virus strains (H3N2 virus and influenza B virus). It’s important that young children, children with chronic illnesses and caregivers of such children should get vaccinated. Since babies less than 6 months of age are too young to receive the vaccine, their caregivers should get vaccinated to help prevent infection in these babies. Pregnant women benefit from the vaccine, since some studies show that it somewhat protects the baby both inside the mother, and also for a few months after the baby is born. Getting the vaccine as soon as it is available should provide protection if the flu season comes early.
In an interesting study published recently, people who slept fewer than 6 hours on average per night were far less likely to mount antibody responses to the vaccine, and were far more likely to be unprotected by the vaccine than people who slept more than 7 hours on average. Now, that’s another good reason to maintain a healthy sleep routine. Not only does it keep your immune system healthy but also helps mount a good immune response to vaccines.
To prevent the spread of germs– WASH UP!
Encourage your child to wash his hands several times during the day, especially after using the bathroom, playing outside, visiting crowded places like the mall, before eating etc… Washing hands with soap and water and scrubbing well for about 20 seconds (for as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice) will help protect against many germs. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Try to stay away from people who are sick. If someone in the house is sick, try to keep that person in a separate room, away from the others in the household. Yeah, right… How practical is that with a 2 year old with flu! But at least try. Teach children to cough into their elbow or the sleeve to minimize spread of the virus. Throw away the tissues and other disposable items used by the sick person in the trash promptly. Clean the surfaces like bathroom and kitchen counters, bedside tables etc. with a household disinfectant according to the product label. Clean and wash linens and eating utensils used by the sick person thoroughly before reusing. Teach your kids to avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth since germs spread this way.
As I mentioned previously, the vaccine is protective, but you can still get the flu by those strains of the flu virus that was not included in the vaccine. If your child has the flu, keep your child home from school or daycare, give them plenty of rest, keep them well hydrated, and give fever medications such as acetaminophen.
Most schools and daycares require a child be fever free (without a fever-reducing medicine) for at least 24 hours before they can return. Antibiotics are not necessary for uncomplicated influenza since it is a viral infection.
This to me is one of the most important pieces of taking care of your sick child. The common complications of the flu are dehydration and bacterial super infections such as pneumonia and ear infection. Seek immediate medical care if your child has any of these symptoms- trouble breathing, persistent vomiting and dehydration, acts lethargic (not waking up easily or interacting normally), irritability (especially important in infants), has flu with other chronic illnesses (such as asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease), or any other signs of worsening . Trust your parental instincts!
When flu strikes, it’s important to give the body rest and time to heal. Help the immune system fight off the infection by following the simple tips mentioned above. Always keep your child’s doctor informed about how your child is doing. Also, make sure that you as a parent relax and take good care of yourself, because those long sleepless nights staying up with your sick child, all that cleaning, and tending to your little ones can be exhausting. For more information about influenza, visit www.cdc.gov/flu or www.flu.gov or call 800-CDC-INFO