Influenza (the flu) is a viral infection of the nose, throat, and lungs caused by influenza viruses. This is different from the stomach flu, which causes vomiting and diarrhea. The flu has similar symptoms to the common cold, however symptoms are usually more severe with the flu than the common cold. Typically the treatment of the two is the same.
You can find more information on flu virus and flu activity on http://www.cdc.gov/flu/.
Flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, even people up to 6 feet away! Less often, a person might get the flu by touching something that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose.
Symptoms of the flu can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, and chills. Some people with the flu will not have a fever, up to 2/3 of people with the flu can be asymptomatic and still be able to spread the flu virus. People with the flu may be able to infect others by shedding virus one day before even showing symptoms, and up to 5 to 7 days after symptoms have begun. Typically flu symptoms can last from 5-7 days, and sometimes up to 2 weeks.
The best way to prevent your child from getting the flu is to get the seasonal flu vaccine.
It is also recommended that all family members and care takers of small children receive the vaccine.
In addition to getting vaccinated, take and encourage your child to take everyday steps that can help prevent the spread of germs. This includes:
- Stay away from people who are sick.
- If your child is sick with flu-like illness, try to keep him or her in a separate room from others in the household, if possible.
- CDC recommends that your sick child stay home for at least 24 hours after his or her fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. The fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue.
- Wash hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Keep surfaces like bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, kitchen counters and toys for children clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant according to directions on the product label.
If your child were to get flu-like symptoms there are a few steps you should take.
- Keep your child comfortable by reducing pain or fever. The best medications for this are acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen. Conduct your child’s healthcare provider if you have any questions about the dosage or administration of either of these medications. You can also find a convenient dosing chart on our website heightspediatrics.com. Avoid giving products containing aspirin in children as this can potentially cause severe reactions in children, called Reye’s syndrome.
- Keep your child hydrated with water or other clear fluids such as Pedialyte or Gatorade, which replace electrolytes.
- If you child has any underlying health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, other chronic issues, or is very young, see your health provider as soon as flu-like symptoms develop. These children should be tested for the flu and may be candidates for anti-viral treatment (discussed below).
- Manage your child’s upper respiratory symptoms (cough and nasal discharge) using home remedies that are known to be effective in minimizing symptoms without causing harmful side effects. Most complications from the flu (pneumonia, and ear infections) occur from mucus in the body that isn’t cleared.
Some of these remedies include:
- Have your child blow their nose often, or if they are younger you may need to suction their nose with a bulb or Nose Frida (sometimes with some saline drops or spray in the nose prior to suctioning) to clear their airways for them.
- Use steam from warm showers to help loosen mucus and make it easier for the body to clear the congestion.
- For children over 12 months of age, honey can be used as an effective cough medication that won’t have the side effects that the over-the-counter medications have. Over-the-counter cough medications are not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for the treatment of cough due to potentially harmful side effects.
- Elevate the head of the child’s bed by placing some pillows or rolled towels under the mattress to prop up the child when they are sleeping. This can help alleviate symptoms at night.
- Protect yourself and others by keeping the sick child away from others, and taking standard precautions to protect others from infection like keeping surfaces clean, and washing hands often.
When you should see your doctor:
- If your child has an underlying condition or is under 2 years old and presents with flu-like symptoms.
- If your child seems very ill- exhibiting true lethargy or irritability.
- If your child is not tolerating fluids and is showing signs of dehydration (lethargic, no urine production in more than 6 hours, or is lacking tears or has a dry mouth).
- If your child is showing signs that they are having trouble breathing (rapid breathing, making noises when they breathe, or are using accessory muscles in their chest or stomach to breathe).
- If your child has had symptoms for a few days but then seems to worsen. This can sometimes be a sign of a new illness, or potentially a complication from the initial illness.
Treatment of the flu
The flu is a viral illness and in most cases does not require any treatment beyond the symptomatic care listed above, which you can do at home. In some cases, children may be candidates for anti-viral treatment of the flu. Anti-viral treatment is aimed at limiting the course and duration of the virus and therefore minimizing potential complications. Children who typically qualify for treatment are:
- The very young (<2yrs)
- Any child with a serious chronic illness
- Any child who is immune-compromised or lives with someone who is immune-compromised.
Anti-viral treatment is most effective when started within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms.
The most common medication used in Pediatrics to treat the flu is Tamiflu (Oseltamivir).
You can find more information on http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/PostmarketDrugSafetyInformationforPatientsandProviders/ucm107838.htm.
There are both pill and liquid formulations of the medication and typical treatment lasts for 5 days. Most common side effects include nausea, vomiting, skin reactions, and in severe cases neuropsychiatric events such as hallucinations. Talk with your pediatrician if anti-viral treatment is necessary for the management of flu for your child.
Happy and healthy season from Heights Pediatrics!