By Linda Stevenson, PhD, RN, FNP-C, PEDIAQ Chief Nursing Officer
A virus causes the flu and there are several types of flu viruses, other viral illnesses can have some flu like symptoms, so it is often hard to tell what you or your child has. You can have a mild case of the flu or a severe one. The most common flu symptoms are a fever along with body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. You can also have a sore throat and cough and occasionally a runny nose. Some can have diarrhea and vomiting. The common thread is that you feel miserable. Kids do not want to play and sometimes will refuse to eat.
The best action is prevention, we want to people from getting the flu. Getting the flu vaccine is the first step. This year the CDC does not recommend use of the flu mist nasal spray due to at least 2-3 years of poor prevention of the flu with its use. Everyone will receive the injectable flu vaccine. It is also good to remember that you cannot get the flu from the injectable flu vaccine, as it is a killed virus. It takes a couple of weeks for your body to build immunity after receiving the vaccine, that is why we get the vaccine early before flu season starts.
Many people think that it isn’t important to be vaccinated against the flu because we work from home or we homeschool our children, but anytime we are around others we have the opportunity to get the flu or other viruses. The children we worry about are those under 5, especially if they are younger than 2 years, and adults who are over 65. If your spouse who works outside the home gets a mild case of the flu it is not a problem, but if he gives it to your 3 month old and grandfather who has a heart condition it may not be so mild and they may have to be hospitalized and it can be very serious.
Other actions that can be taken to try to prevent the flu are to wash hands frequently, stay home if you are ill so you do not spread the illness to others, teach children to cough into their elbow or use a tissue then wash their hands, and avoid close contact with sick persons. If your child has had a fever they should stay home for 24 hours after the fever has resolved. A person is contagious 1 day before the flu symptoms develop and for 5 to 7 days after becoming ill.
If you think your child has the flu and it is mild, keep them home and call your health care provider. Usually mild cases do not require antiviral medications such as Tamiflu, but this will be between you and your pediatrician based on your child’s symptoms, medical history and their clinical judgment. Mild illness can be treated with acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the fever and muscle aches or headache; lots of fluids, chicken soup and rest.
But if your ill infant doesn’t want to eat, has fewer than normal wet diapers or seems to be working hard at breathing you need to have them seen by a health care provider. If your older child is breathing fast at rest, has difficulty waking up, fever that does not respond to medications or fever with a rash or if they have had flu symptoms that resolved and then returned with fever and a worsening cough they need to be seen by a health care provider. It is also possible that your child could have the flu along with another virus.
Tis the season for viruses – stay healthy!!