‘Tis the Season to Catch the Flu

It’s all over the news: this is one of the worst flu seasons in several years. Influenza is still a dangerous disease that can take the lives of children and adults, especially if they are susceptible to infections because of asthma or a weakened immune system. But every year, previously healthy infants and children also die from influenza.  Here’s some advice on how to prevent, recognize, and treat influenza and when you need to call the doctor.

How can I prevent my child from getting the flu?

Get your children and yourselves vaccinated as soon as possible. Although it takes up to two weeks for all the protection to take hold, the flu outbreak may last till March, and you can still get protection for your family. This year’s vaccine is over 65% effective. Although difficult to prevent once an outbreak occurs in a community, the following steps are advised by the CDC:

  • Avoid close contact.
    Keep your children away from people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  • Keep your child home.
    Keep your child home if he or she becomes sick or if there is a known outbreak in daycare or schools.
  • Cover your mouth and nose.
    Teach your child to cover his mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean your hands.
    Washing your hands and your children’s hands often will help protect you from germs.
  • Teach your child to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
    This is a hard one for parents. Germs are often spread when a child touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

How do I know if my child has the flu?

The symptoms are very specific and include high fever (usually lasting 4 – 6 days), sore aching muscles, generalized weakness, headache, pain behind the eyeballs, a sore throat and hacking cough.

How can I treat the flu?

The uncomplicated flu lasts 7 – 10 days and does not respond to antibiotics. Treatment includes plenty of fluids, bed rest and acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever, headache and body aches. For cough, try a mixture of honey and lemon (if older than 1 year), non-caffeine teas or an over the counter (OTC) cough suppressant. Remember, to prevent Reye’s syndrome, a potentially fatal illness, never give aspirin to your child or adolescent with the flu.

When Do I Need to Call the doctor?

If the cough is worsening or your child is having difficulty breathing,

If you suspect your infant (under 1 years old) has the flu, especially if he/she has a high fever and cough which persists for more than 3 days. NOTE: Any infant under 2 months with a fever (rectal temperature of 101 or greater) must be seen.

If your older child has a high fever for more than 5 days, a worsening cough (with or without chest pain), a headache for more than 5 days or a headache which is getting worse or accompanied by a stiff neck.