It’s that time of the year. Flu season is upon us! We are already seeing influenza cases in some St. Louis clinics. Flu season comes around regularly each fall. Unfortunately, some years it is worse than the others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that each year about 20,000 children younger than five years of age are hospitalized from flu complications like pneumonia.
I get a lot of questions every year about the flu vaccine. Last year, two Air Force physicians lost their four-year-old son to complications of the flu on Christmas Eve. The child was scheduled to receive a flu shot but unfortunately, ended up with the flu before his appointment. He was previously healthy and was one of the 183 children who died from flu last year. The strain that struck the U.S. last year was considered severe and peaked in early February.
Influenza (flu) is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs caused by the influenza virus. Most influenza cases are seen from October through May, though it can occur anytime during the year. The virus spreads mainly by droplets made when infected people sneeze, cough or talk. Droplets that enter the mouth or nose of a healthy person, 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 if your child is coming down with the flu? Oh, You’ll Know. The sniffles set in and the throat becomes sore. Your child gets body aches and headaches and their temperature starts rising. Your child 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 recognizing complications promptly.
The best preventative measures include receiving vaccinations and practicing healthy habits to prevent the spread of germs.
About The Flu Vaccine
The Flu vaccine is recommended every year. For the 2018-19 flu season, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends an annual influenza vaccination for everyone six months and older with any licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine (IIV, RIV4 or LAIV4) with no preference expressed for anyone vaccine over another.
The flu shot is an inactivated vaccine (containing the dead virus) that is given with a needle, normally in the arm. The 2018-19 seasonal flu vaccine will protect against the three influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season, including the H1N1 Influenza A and two other influenza virus strains – H3N2 Influenza A virus and influenza B virus. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the injectable form of the vaccine as a first choice but supports the use of nasal spray or live attenuated influenza vaccine for the 2018-19 flu season. The nasal spray vaccine may be used for children who would not otherwise receive the flu shot, as long as they are two years of age or older and healthy without an underlying medical condition.
It’s important that young children, children with chronic illnesses, and caregivers of such children get vaccinated. Since babies less than six months of age are too young to receive the vaccine, their caregivers should get vaccinated to help prevent infection in these babies. Pregnant women should receive the vaccine because some have studies shown that vaccines provide some protection for the baby inside the mother and for a few months after birth. Getting the vaccine as soon as it is available provides protection if the flu season comes early.
The Importance of Sleep After Receiving a Vaccination
In an interesting study published a few years ago, people who slept fewer than six hours on average per night were far less likely to mount antibody responses to vaccination and were far more likely to be unprotected by the vaccine than people who slept more than seven 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.
Preventing the Spread of Germs
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, and before eating. Washing hands with soap and water and scrubbing well for about 20 seconds will help protect against many germs. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good option if soap and water are unavailable.
It is best to avoid people who are sick and to keep the sick person in a separate room, away from others in the household. Teach children to minimize the spread of the virus by coughing into their elbow or the sleeve. Promptly throw away the tissues and disposable items used by the sick person. Clean surfaces like bathroom and kitchen counters, bedside tables, etc. with a household disinfectant. Clean and wash linens and eating utensils used by the sick person before reusing. Teach your kids to avoid touching the eyes, nose, and mouth since germs spread this way.
Providing Supportive Care
The flu vaccine offers variable protection: in spite of vaccination, 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 them home from school or daycare and give them plenty of rest, fluids, and fever medications such as acetaminophen. Many schools and daycares require a child be fever-free (without a fever-reducing medicine) for at least 24 hours before they can return. Since influenza is a viral infection, antibiotics are not necessary for uncomplicated influenza cases.
Recognizing the Complications
This is one of the most important pieces of taking care of your sick child. Common complications of the flu include dehydration and bacterial superinfections such as ear infections and pneumonia. Seek immediate medical attention 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 the flu strikes, it’s important to give the body enough rest and time to heal. Assist the immune system in fighting off the infection by adhering to the simple tips mentioned above. It’s important to keep your child’s doctor informed about how your child is feeling. Also, make sure that you, as a parent, relax and take good care of yourself. Sleepless nights staying up with your sick kid, cleaning, and tending to your little ones can be exhausting.