By Guest Blogger Amy Jo Wallace, MD, Wake Forest Baptist Health Pediatrics –Kernersville
Children tend to get sick this time of the year. Many cold viruses and stomach bugs make the rounds in schools and day cares throughout the winter. While some people may refer to these illnesses as “the flu,” they aren’t.
The real flu is caused by the influenza virus. It’s longer lasting and much more uncomfortable than the common cold or a 24-hour stomach virus. The flu can cause kids to have extreme achiness, severe fatigue and a high fever that lasts for several days. It may cause your child to miss a week or more of school. In some cases, complications can arise. The flu is serious business, so it’s important to know how best to prevent and treat it.
The No. 1 way to keep your kids from getting the flu is to have them vaccinated against it. Each year, a vaccine is created to fight the most common strains of flu for that particular flu season. Because these strains differ from year to year, it’s essential to have your child get a flu shot every year. The flu vaccine is typically given from October through spring. So if your child has not yet been vaccinated, it’s not too late!
Children 6 months and older can receive the vaccination. Infants and children receiving the flu vaccine for the first time will need two doses separated by one month to be fully vaccinated. Because babies cannot receive the vaccine until 6 months of age, it’s important that caregivers and anyone who interacts with a newborn be vaccinated.
For children over the age of 2, the flu vaccine can be given as an injection or a nasal spray. The nasal spray is not recommended for children with chronic illnesses, particularly asthma and other breathing problems.
Side effects from the flu vaccine are typically mild and can include low-grade fever and soreness at the injection site. Also, the nasal spray flu vaccine may cause a mild runny nose or nasal congestion. These symptoms are very minor and just the body’s way of building immunity to the virus.
While vaccination is by far the best prevention, hand washing is also important in fighting the flu. Sanitizer can be used when soap and water aren’t available. Also, be sure to limit contact with people displaying symptoms of the flu, and teach your kids to cover their coughs and sneezes in the elbow, not the hands.
If your child does come down with the flu, you’ll notice these symptoms:
- 4-5 days of high fever
- Sore throat
- Body aches
Some kids may also experience vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms are less common in adults.
Remember: The flu is severe. If your kids are able to be out of bed, participate in daily activities or if they recover in a few days, it’s likely not the flu. However, if you’re concerned, you should talk to your children’s pediatrician.
There are antiviral medications available to treat the flu. These drugs aren’t like antibiotics; they don’t get rid of the flu. They may, however, shorten the illness and lessen its severity. If an antiviral medication is prescribed for your child, it is important to start the medication within 48 hours of developing flu symptoms. If started after those first two days, the medication will be less effective.
In addition to antivirals, the best thing you can do to treat your kids’ flu is keep them well hydrated by drinking lots of water. Dehydration can be a serious complication and may lead to additional trips to your pediatrician or even the hospital.
You may also treat common flu symptoms to make your child more comfortable. Honey can help with cough, saline drops with nasal congestion, and Tylenol or ibuprofen with fever and body aches. Remember that children less than 1 year old cannot be given honey. Aspirin should not be used to treat fever or viral illnesses in children.
Finally, make sure your kids get plenty of rest. And remember: Your children can’t return to school until they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours.
Generally, healthy children who develop the flu will recover normally after about a week. However, those with underlying medical problems, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and kidney problems, are at a much higher risk for complications like dehydration and pneumonia. That’s why these children, in particular, should be vaccinated against the flu.
Be on the lookout for changes that could indicate your child’s flu has taken a turn for the worse:
- Labored breathing, rapid breathing or out-of-breath speaking
- Drinking less
- Urinating less or fewer wet diapers
If you notice any of these symptoms, be sure to contact your child’s pediatrician right away.
If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Wallace, please call 336-716-WAKE or visit WakeHealth.edu.
Sponsored by Brenner Children’s Hospital