I hope you’re having a happy holiday season and that this post finds you well in this last week of 2016. Whether you enjoyed the holidays in the winter wonderland of the Wasatch mountains or lounging in a beach chair near the ocean, I hope you had a joyous holiday weekend. With all that hustle and bustle and being in close quarters with friends and family, you or your children, may have returned home with a little more than some presents. The symptoms of sudden fever, body aches, chills, headache, fatigue, sore throat, cough, and stuffy, runny nose are all characteristics of influenza, more commonly known as the flu. If any of your little-ones are currently experiencing these symptoms, there is a chance they could have the flu. Read on to learn more about what the flu is, how you can help your child get through it, and how you can prevent them from getting it in the first place.
Along with the aforementioned symptoms, children can also experience vomiting and diarrhea while sick with the flu. Furthermore, flu symptoms will typically last one week (7 days) or more. I’m often asked in clinic how parents can know if they or their child has the flu, and my answer is often “Oh, you’ll know.” What do I mean by that? Well, the symptoms of flu are typically much more severe and last longer than a common cold virus. Believe me, if you have ever had the flu, you know you never want to get it again. The flu makes you feel miserable. Your child is also at risk for complications from the flu, like secondary bacterial infections such as an ear infection, sinusitis or pneumonia. If your child is complaining of ear pain, has a lingering cough that’s not getting better, or a fever that persists or suddenly develops again after not having one, you should take your child to see their primary care provider (PCP).
Influenza is caused by a respiratory virus that is spread via droplets in the air or by touching infected surfaces and then touching your nose, eyes or mouth. For example, if someone with the flu sneezes, virus particles are released into the air, and if your child happens to be nearby and inhales those particles, he now has a chance of coming down with flu. Similarly, if someone with the flu sneezes into their hands and then touches a door handle to open a door and then your child touches that same door handle and then rubs his eyes, he could come down with the flu. The flu virus is most contagiousness in the first few days of the illness, but it can be spread a day before symptoms start and up to a week or more after symptoms began. This is another reason to keep your children home when they are sick, so as to not spread disease.
The flu is treated with supportive care; lots of rest, lots of fluids, and lots of love. If your child seems like they are in pain or uncomfortable from the fever or other flu symptoms they are experiencing, you may give a pain or fever reducing medicine such as Acetaminophen. Make sure to use the correct dose for you child’s current weight (see here). Because the flu is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not helpful. However, if your child has a chronic health problem like asthma, diabetes, sickle cell disease, a chronic neurological condition then he or she may benefit from an antiviral medication that is only available by prescription from his or her PCP. Antiviral medications are most effective at reducing influenza severity and illness duration if start within forty-eight hours of symptom onset.
The single best way to prevent your child from getting the flu is to have him or her vaccinated against the flu each year. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), recommends that an influenza vaccine be given each year to all children beginning at six months of age. Children 6 months through 8 years of age may need two doses given at least four weeks apart if they’ve never received 2 in one season. Children ages 9 and older only need one dose. In addition, it is also recommended that anyone who will be in close contact with your child or any other caretakers receive an annual flu shot as well. This is especially important if your child is not old enough to receive a flu shot. The flu shot is safe and effective and has few side effects, if any. The most common are local injection site redness, soreness, or swelling, and fever. In Utah and the surrounding Intermountain West the best time to get your child his or her flu shot is October through November – sooner if your child has a chronic illness that may make the consequences of an influenza infection more severe (see conditions listed above). That being said, if you haven’t had a chance to get your child vaccinated yet this season, it’s not too late. Go get them vaccinated as soon as possible. Finally, practicing good hand hygiene, eating a nutritious diet, and getting adequate rest are all great ways to prevent your children from getting sick. Please, if you have any questions or concerns about what was discussed in this month's post, don't hesitate to contact us here at ABC pediatrics. We are happy to answer any questions you might have. Wishing you and yours a very happy and healthy 2017!
Information presented adapted from:
American Academy of Pediatrics, Recommendations for Prevention and Control of Influenza in Children, 2016-2017
American Academy of Pediatrics, The Flu
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, How Flu Spreads
Mary-Faith Fuller, CPNP
I am a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who has worked at ABC Pediatrics since January 2014.