While driving to work one morning this week, a local radio DJ described Louisiana’s four seasons as football, hunting, Mardi Gras, and crawfish. While this is undeniably true, those of us who work in healthcare, particularly in pediatrics, tend to refer to the seasons by the most common illnesses we see in our offices. Although it may not feel like it most days, winter is here and flu season is at its peak. Make sure you and your children are prepared for cold and flu season.
So what’s the deal?
Influenza, aka “the flu,” like the common cold and many other respiratory infections, is caused by a virus. Flu season typically runs from the fall through the early spring with common symptoms including fever, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, stuffy nose, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. Flu symptoms are typically more severe than those associated with the common cold.
How do I get the flu?
The flu can spread in multiple ways. If a person infected with the flu coughs or sneezes, the virus particles can spread through the air and be inhaled by those who are close by. The virus can also land on hard surfaces, and by touching those surfaces then touching your eyes, mouth, or nose can lead to infection.
What can I do to avoid getting the flu?
Get your flu shot! Although it is in the middle of the season, your child can still receive the flu shot from his/her pediatrician. The flu shot is very helpful in preventing you and your child from getting the flu; helping make the flu less severe if you do get it, and decreasing the number of flu-related deaths. Any child 6 months or older can receive the flu shot. This year the inactivated flu shot and the live-attenuated nasal mist are approved for children. Other helpful habits for preventing the spread of the flu and other viral illnesses include washing your hands frequently, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and not sharing drinks or eating utensils with someone who is sick. You can also wipe down surfaces such as counters, doorknobs, and toys.
It’s too late! My child has the flu… What do I do?
Call your doctor! Medicines like Tylenol and Ibuprofen help decrease fever. They will need to drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated, especially since your child’s appetite will more than likely decrease. You can also discuss if the antiviral medicine, Oseltamivir (brand name Tamiflu), would be helpful with your pediatrician. This medication works best if it is given within 1-2 days of your symptoms starting. It can take 1-2 weeks to recover from the flu, and it is essential to keep your child at home while sick, especially if they have a fever to prevent further spread of the virus.
Children under 6 months of age and those with underlying health problems such as asthma, diabetes, heart or kidney conditions are considered high-risk populations for the flu. It is very important to let your child’s doctor know if you suspect your child has the flu.
In order for you and your family to remain happy and healthy this New Year, remember to wash your hands, call your child’s pediatrician if your child is sick, and remember it is not too late to receive your flu shot!