Just a Cold? Or is it the Flu?

sick kid-01Any given year, between 5% and 20% of the US population will catch the flu.

Influenza, or the flu, is a virus spread in tiny drops of fluid that an infected person has sneezed or coughed out. Your children can inhale these, or rub droplets contacted from surfaces–or other people–onto their eyes, nose, or mouth. After a 1-4 day incubation period, your child becomes sick.

The initial symptoms of flu include a sudden, high spiking fever, chills, headache, tiredness, and body aches. From there it progresses through sore throat and congestion. Symptoms generally last about ten days, with the worst occurring during the first three days.

Children can be sick for longer than adults, and have more complications.

Complications of the flu commonly include things like pneumonia, ear infections, and sinusitis. Less common complications include fever seizures, encephalopathy, inflammation of the heart, and death.

Serious complications are more common in children with underlying health conditions, but even healthy children can become severely ill. During the 2014-2015 season, more than 145 children died, and more than 200,000 kids were hospitalized with flu complications. Generally about 43% of hospitalized kids have no predisposing health problems.

Children at the highest risk are those with underlying conditions like asthma, a compromised immune system (cancer, HIV/AIDS…), or with chronic diseases (diabetes, seizures…) Also at risk are babies under six months of age, who are not yet old enough to get the vaccine and whose immune systems are not yet adult sized.

We try to make sure high risk kids get their vaccines if they can, but we rely on other people to also get their vaccines to “cocoon” these kids so that they are not exposed. If parents, chid care providers, and the other kids in daycare get their flu shots, then chances are that the cute little baby with heart disease will not catch the flu.

Vaccines rule. Preventing disease is always better and safer than trying to treat it once a child is sick.

Flu vaccines come in two types–shot and inhaled mist. The shot is a dead virus, the inhaled mist is a live attenuated (very weak) virus. Neither can give you the flu or make your child autistic. Since we give the vaccine in the midst of cold and flu season, some people are bound to become ill in the weeks after they get it. It is easy to blame the vaccine. The shot can make your arm red and sore; the mist, since it is live, can give you a mild stuffy nose and a low grade fever. So much better than what the actual flu can do!

Last, what should you do if your child does catch the flu? If he or she has any underlying health conditions or is under two years old, call your doc. We have antiviral meds that, while they taste horrible and are not completely effective, do help.

Then, just like when they have a cold, make them rest, push any sort of fluid they will drink, and treat the symptoms. Ibuprofen will generally work better for the body aches and headaches than acetaminophen. Salt water drops or sprays work for stuffy noses, and for kids over four, cold and cough medicines will help them feel better.

Keep them home, because they are contagious. Adults are contagious for about 5-7 days; kids can be contagious for more than 10 days. Both can be contagious about a day before they have any signs of illness.

Call your doc if your child has any breathing problems, lethargy, fever that persists for more than three days, or isn’t starting to get better after the first few days. Or just if you want to. That’s what we’re here for.

 

 

 

“It’s Just a Cold…”

Adorable child dressed as doctor playing with toy over white

Happy cold and flu season! How many times have you taken your child to the doctor and been told, “It’s just a virus. Rest, push fluids, and they’ll feel better in about 10 days”?

Sadly, it’s true. There are hundreds of different viruses that cause colds, from the most common rhinovirus through the ever-unpleasant adenovirus to the rather pretty coronavirus (it has a crown…).

We can’t fix any of them.

All of them are contagious. All you have to do to catch one is breathe around someone who has one, or touch a surface that someone infectious has recently touched and then rub your nose or eyes. After a 2 or 3 day incubation period you will wake up to a scratchy throat and headache and you too will be infectious (mostly for the first 3 days).

Children catch an average of 8-10 colds during the first two years of their lives; they average 6-8 colds per year during their school years. Since most colds occur from October through March, this means 1-2 colds per month, lasting 10 days each. If it seems like your children are sick all the time, it’s because… they are sick all the time.

Symptoms of a cold include fever, red watery eyes, congestion, cough, tiredness and decreased appetite. Your child’s ears might feel plugged up. Watery nasal discharge can turn thick and green after a day or two (this doesn’t mean they have a sinus infection, it’s just part of what a virus does).

So how do we keep them as healthy as possible? You probably already know the basics:

  • Wash their hands frequently. Keep those hands away from their eyes, nose and mouth! No nail chewing!
  • Cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough. Elbows or facial tissues work.
  • Disinfect surfaces.
  • Look for small daycares and classes whenever possible (I know, but we can dream).
  • Do what you can to boost their young immune systems. Breastfeeding your infant will make me poor–all that wonderful grown-up immunity transferred to your little one. Never smoke in air your child will inhale. Really. Never. It will destroy their immune system. And yours, by the way. Take probiotics like Acidophilus (in yogurt) or Lactobacillis.
  • Make sure they get enough sleep. If they are sleepy during the day, move their bedtimes up. Tired people get sick.
  • Offer them healthy food, and throw out all the unhealthy food so they will have fewer options when they get hungry.
  • Have lots of fluids available, because hydration is necessary for your body’s defenses to work. And no, I don’t mean soda. Water, dilute juice or milk please.

When your children get sick, treat their symptoms so that they will feel better. We have nothing that cures colds–antibiotics do not kill viruses. Salt water (saline) nose sprays are safe. Tylenol or ibuprofen will help with fever and pain. Over the counter cold meds will suppress some of the symptoms in children over 6 years of age, although they’ve never been proven to work for younger kids.

Call your doctor if the fever lasts more than three days, if your child is lethargic or unusually cranky, or if they have an earache or breathing problems.

Make them rest and drink fluids, and they’ll feel better in about 10 days.

Domesticated Momster