Dear Dr. Johnson: What can I do if my child gets influenza?
Dear Reader: If you have read the paper, watched the news, been on the Internet or pretty much talked to anyone, you probably have heard that this year is turning out to be a very bad year for influenza.
The influenza virus typically causes a respiratory illness with cough and congestion as well as fever, chills, body aches, headache, decrease in energy and appetite. The symptoms vary from that of the common cold in that, with flu, they come on suddenly and are often more severe.
Young children, pregnant women, individuals over 65 and those with chronic health problems (such as asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease) are at highest risk of complications from influenza, but otherwise healthy individuals may also experience complications.
Obviously, the best thing to do is to try to avoid getting ill. The No. 1 prevention is the influenza vaccine that is available as a shot or a nose spray. While some places are low in supply, overall there is not a shortage. If you or your children haven’t gotten it yet, I would strongly encourage you to consider being vaccinated. It takes about two weeks to have the full effect of immunity from the vaccine, but you will begin to have some protection after getting the vaccine.
It is always important to practice good hand hygiene but especially important this time of year. Hands should be washed for 20 seconds (sing “Happy Birthday” twice) often throughout the day but especially before eating and after sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose.
If you do cough or sneeze, do it into your shoulder or elbow instead of your hand. Don’t share cups or utensils. Play dates, parties and family gatherings should be cancelled when people are ill to prevent further spread of infection. Adults should stay home from work and children home from school when ill.
If you or your child become ill, the best therapy is rest and maintaining hydration. Antipyretics such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen (if over 6 months of age) can be used for discomfort and fevers. Aspirin should not be used in children.
The fever may last a few days, but if it goes away or your other symptoms are improving for a day or more and then worsen again, you should be seen by a health care provider, as this may be a sign of a secondary bacterial infection such as an ear infection or pneumonia
Most children do not require antiviral treatment, but if your child has a chronic illness or is very young (under 2 years but especially if under 6 months of age), you should discuss possible treatment with your child’s doctor early in the illness. Treatment works best if started within the first 48 hours after the start of symptoms and can decrease severity and duration of symptoms.
Other reasons a child should be seen is if he or she is having difficulty breathing, breathing fast continuously, not able to drink enough to stay hydrated, fussy no matter what is done, extremely sleepy or looks very sick. More information can be found at www.cdc.gov/flu. Stay healthy!