Influenza is a fact of life in the pediatric world. Every year we see it. The unpredictable part of flu is when will it start and how bad of a year will it be. Last year (2016-17), it came pretty late and lasted well into the spring, which was a very unusual season. You may recall in 2009, the H1N1 pandemic started super early in August and then had another “bump” during mid winter, the regular time for flu.
What is “the flu”?
Influenza is a viral respiratory illness spread easily by coughing, or touching surfaces where secretions have fallen. As we all love to touch our face, especially kids, we inoculate ourselves and get sick. There are a lot of other viruses, especially stomach viruses, often called “the flu.” Really these infections are caused by other viruses and don’t have the severity of true influenza.
Ok… so Influenza refers to a specific virus. What symptoms does it cause?
Symptoms of true influenza include a sudden high temperature (many people can say, “I got sick at 4pm” or “during my math class”), chills and body aches, especially leg aches, fatigue, headache, sore throat, dry hacky cough (which often can trigger wheezing in kids who already have wheezed in the past), and a stuffy or runny nose. People who have true influenza are miserable, mainly from the fevers and aches. Unlike stomach viruses which make all kids have vomiting and/or diarrhea, only some kids with true influenza throw up and have diarrhea. Another bad part about the flu is that it lasts quite a while. The fever can last 4-5 day, and the feeling bad/fatigue part can last a couple weeks. Complications of the flu include wheezing as discussed above, pneumonia which can often lead to hospitalizations, especially in young babies, and scary stuff like seizures, meningitis and encephalitis.
Yikes! How do you treat the flu?
Because it’s a virus, antibiotics don’t help influenza. TLC such as extra rest, fluids, Tylenol or ibuprofen (if over 6 mos) can help symptoms. Unfortunately all the cold and flu meds that are at the grocery and drug stores really don’t help the congestion and coughs in kids. If they are older than 1, honey can help the post nasal drip and soothe a sore throat. Extra fluids to drink and nasal saline sprays can help thin secretions and open nasal passages. Kids who have a worsening cough, increased work of breathing, irritability or lethargy that doesn’t improve with fever measures, signs of dehydration or fever >100.4 for more than 4 days need to be seen by us. If there’s ever a question if your child needs to be seen, please call us! We can walk you through your child’s symptoms, treatment ideas and decide together if they need to be seen.
Gee, this sounds horrible, Dr Hardin! How do we avoid getting the flu?
Well, guess what? There’s a vaccine! While not a perfect vaccine, more and more studies show that kids who are hospitalized with influenza or even die from flu almost always weren’t vaccinated. And often, kids who have had the vaccine have less severe cases than kids who have not had the vaccine. We often hear in the office something like, “well my kids got the vaccine but my husband didn’t, and he’s got a way worse case.” We have already started giving out our vaccine, and are starting up our Saturday clinics, so give us a call to help protect your family. We will be giving vaccine to parents again this year too!
Influenza is a nasty disease with lots of complications. Protect your family, come on in and get your flu vaccine!