It’s Allergy Season! What To Do For Your Child?

sneezing boy-01Allergies happen when a body’s immune defenses overreact to something in the environment. They decide that a molecule of pollen or mold is a dangerous invader and it needs to be killed. Queue the mucus, swelling and itching.

If your child has the tendency to wheeze, queue the airway spasm as well.

If he or she has sensitive skin, also expect an outbreak of dry itchy patches.

If they keep the mucus, swelling and wheezing for a while, they can develop secondary infections like earaches, sinusitis and pneumonia.

Allergies suck.

What triggers allergies?

Kids can be allergic to a multitude of things. They can react seasonally to flowers in the spring, to grasses in the summer and fall, or to wood fires and Christmas trees in the winter. Year round allergens include molds, mildews and dust mites (tiny bugs that live in dust and upholstery, feed on flakes of skin. and leave behind their poop). Many children are allergic to pets–especially cats and birds–and react to the pet’s feathers, fur, saliva or skin scale. The poisons in cigarettes are common triggers, as are fumes like perfume and air pollution. Scents and dyes in soaps and detergents can cause allergic reactions. Some kids react to contact with latex or metals like nickel.

Food allergies are different–a whole blog in themselves.

How do we prevent an allergy attack?

We can’t cure allergies–all we can do is try to keep them under control. If possible, avoid the allergen:

  • If your child is allergic to cats, don’t buy him or her a kitten. Ditto for birds, dogs, hamsters…
  • Never smoke in your house or car.
  • If the allergy is to pollens, keep your air conditioner on seasonally and buy filters that catch allergens.
  • Dust mites? Cover your child’s mattress and pillow with zip up covers designed to contain them.
  • Don’t use curtains in his or her room, or wash them weekly.
  • Limit stuffed animals to those you can wash in hot water with their bed linens once a week.
  • Vacuum daily (sorry).
  • Dust with a damp cloth (also sorry).
  • Molds? Fix any damp areas in your home. Use that bathroom vent – timers that shut off automatically work great, and are easy to install.
  • Clear out vegetation close to the house, and discard any dead plant bits.

Medicines can help prevent allergic reactions.

If avoidance is not enough, your munchkin can take an antihistamine as needed to block the allergic reaction. Try to stick with the newer, non-sedating antihistamines: claritin, zyrtec or xyzol, allegra and their generics.

If an exposure is inevitable (“We have to go to Grandma’s and you know she has that cat!”) you can give them an antihistamine about an hour before.

If they are going to be exposed to their allergy trigger every day for a while (springtime pollen?), they can take the antihistamine every day, if you buy the non-sedating type.

If their allergies are chronic, a daily steroid nose spray or a preventative medicine called Singulair (montelukast sodium) can also help prevent the symptoms.

Offer them lots of water to wash the allergens out of their system.

Allergy Testing

If they still have symptoms, allergy testing can help to pinpoint exactly what they are allergic to, so you know what to avoid or clean up. Knowledge is power. It does no good to find a new home for the cat if the child is only allergic to mold. Poor kitten.

Last, if avoidance and medication are not enough, your physician will bring up the subject of allergy shots to desensitize your munchkin to the allergen. He or she will not be thrilled.

Allergies are miserable, but there are things you can do to make your child more comfortable. Prevent the exposure if you can, and give medication if you can’t–either a short term antihistamine or longer term preventative nasal sprays or montelukast sodium. Consider allergy testing and shots when those simpler therapies don’t work. And hydrate. Soon, the season will change.

It’s Not Too Soon. It’s Too Late. Ask Their Parents.

Today’s blog was written by a fellow pediatrician, Dr. Chad Hayes. I could not have said it better.

Florida has some of the most lax gun laws in the country: anyone over 18 can buy  a semi-automatic weapon with no license, no firearms registration, and often without a background check. This is the state that, for a while, made it illegal for pediatricians to council parents on gun safety. If a pediatrician told a parent their guns should be in a safe, unloaded, without a bullet in the chamber–that doc could be arrested and charged with a crime.

The NRA owns our country and our politicians, and it is indeed too late for us to save the 17 children who died today. It is not too late to make rational gun laws that will save the kids who are sitting beside you doing their homework tonight.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for gun control:

  • Enact strong, effective assault weapon ban
  • Eliminate the gun show loophole, require mandatory background checks and waiting periods
  • Ban on high-capacity magazines
  • Enact strong handgun regulations
  • Require safe firearm storage under federal law

 

ChadHayes-01This afternoon, after spending a few minutes in my office, watching live coverage of our country’s most recent school shooting, I was talking about the tragedy with my nurse, who grew up in London: “You didn’t have a lot of school shootings in England, did you?”

“No, we didn’t. Nobody had guns. All people had were batons.”

I’ve not heard of many school batonings.

Among similarly-developed nations, frequent school shootings are a uniquely American problem. In fact, they are so common that many occur without drawing significant media attention. There have been several in 2018, and we’re only in week 7.

I’m writing this just a couple hours after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Reports from the scene are still fluid. From what I’ve heard so far, the shooter is in custody, and there are multiple fatalities (update: 17 so far). Those details, no doubt, will change. We will learn the true number of people injured and killed. We will see the faces of children who spent their last Valentine’s Day bleeding out on the floor of their school. We will learn the shooter’s identity (Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student), the weapons used (an AR-15 rifle), and possibly a motive.

But my intent is not to provide these details. I’m not a reporter.

What I am is a father that cannot imagine losing a child.

I am a pediatrician that cares very much about the safety and well-being of children. One that believes that no child should live in fear of being gunned down at school, that no parent should have to bury a murdered child, and that the number of times this has happened without any significant action to prevent the next tragedy is unacceptable.

I am a physician that has resuscitated children with gunshot injuries, and tried to resuscitate others. Some were suicides. Some were accidents. Their stories are powerful, but they aren’t mine to tell.

I sent out a tweet after heard about this shooting, essentially saying that maybe this time, after thisround of children is murdered, we should do more than “thoughts and prayers” and perhaps start taking actual steps towards preventing similar events in the future. It was long until I received a reply: “We don’t know anything yet and you’re [sic] attempt at politicizing this is pretty awful.”

And that seems to be the response every time this happens: “It’s too soon.” “Don’t politicize this.” “You’re using the victims to promote your agenda.” It’s the same response I heard after, just seven miles from my house, nine people were murdered in Emmanuel AME Church. It’s the same response I heard after 58 people were killed at a concert in Las Vegas. It’s the same response I heard when twenty 6- and 7-year-old children were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

So, yes. I’m using the victims to promote my agenda. And I feel like their families would probably be alright with that, because my agenda is to minimize the future victims.

Here’s the thing: There is no simple solution. There is no single solution. There is no perfect solution. There isn’t one change we can make and magically make gun violence disappear.

As with many issues, the answer—if we find one—will likely be found somewhere in the middle of two extremes. Firearms are so ingrained into American culture that to think it is at all feasible to ban them altogether is asinine. And to pretend that there are no steps we can take to work towards a safer environment for ourselves and our children is equally absurd.

The Second Amendment was written over two centuries years ago. The men who wrote it would not recognize and could not have anticipated the weapons available today. What they did anticipate was that the future would look remarkably different from their present, which is why they built into the Constitution a means to amend it in the first place. The Second Amendment, despite what the NRA would like you to believe, is not immutable.

At the time the Bill of Rights was signed, the most common weapons were muskets capable of firing a single shot before a rather complex and time-consuming reloading process.

Today’s weapons are far more accurate, far more powerful, and unbelievably fast. The term “semi-automatic” means that a round is fired with each pull of the trigger. This is to distinguish it from other types of firearms that require an additional action, such as the movement of a lever or bolt, to load and fire another round (and also from “automatic” firearms which continue to fire until the trigger is released or there is no more ammunition).

But while the term “semi-automatic” is frequently used in such a way as to demonize the weapon, the reality is that’s just how firearms work today. Just as most modern vehicles  include automatic transmissions and power windows, semi-automatic handguns and rifles are pretty much the standard. And in most states, anyone over 18 years of age (21 for handguns) and without a criminal record can walk into a store and purchase one.

A common example of a semi-automatic firearm is the AR-15 used in the Parkland massacre. These rifles are made for one purpose: to kill people quickly. Because in combat, that’s the goal. But these firearms are not restricted to the military; they are widely available to the civilian market. Certainly, most people that own them do not intend to murder their innocent neighbors; most people that own firearms are law-abiding citizens that simply enjoy shooting them at the range or keep them in case of some real or imagined catastrophe.

There are better firearms with which to hunt. There are better weapons with which to defend oneself or one’s family. But there is no better type of firearm (at least, not one available to civilians) with which to kill a lot of people very quickly. And the teenage murderer in Parkland, Florida knew that.

It is clear to me, and I think most people would agree, that there are some weapons that should not be available to the general public. At some point on the continuum from a baseball bat to a nuclear bomb, there’s a point at which one’s right to self defense is outweighed by the risks that a particular weapon presents to the rest of us. We can argue about where that point is. And we should.

We should argue about where to draw that line. We should talk about what further steps we can take to prevent people who shouldn’t have guns from obtaining them. We should talk about ways to encourage safe storage of firearms and ammunition. We should talk about preventing sales of firearms without background checks at gun shows or by individuals. We should talk about the education, training, and licensing that should be required to own a firearm. We have a lot to talk about.

I am not the expert in this field. But there are experts in this field. We should listen to them. Because while a good guy with a gun may occasionally stop a bad guy with a gun, it would be far better to have bad guys without guns.

As emotionally charged as mass shootings are–especially those involving children, they account for only a small percentage of the 30,000 or so gun deaths each year in the US. Far more people are killed by firearms in less spectacular situations like suicides, accidents, domestic disputes, or gang violence. And while we will not be able to prevent every firearm death, we can make a difference.

The thoughts and prayers aren’t working. It’s time to do something.

Because it’s not too soon. It’s too late. Ask their parents.

Fun, Free Printables from MyraMakes.com

Today’s blog is brought to you by MyraMakes.com. Myra Makes is a creative education company based in Boulder, Colorado. Their mission is to empower kids with a love of learning and inspire them to embark on their own creative adventures. They approach education in a kid-centered way–they believe that by introducing opportunities for kids to express their natural creative potential, they can help cultivate the generation of forward-thinking innovators that we so critically need.

They brought the adventure to life with their first product, the creative learning adventure book Journey to Cloud City, available on Amazon, and they have allowed me to put some of their printables on the blog. (Reprint only for non-commercial purposed only, please!) Designed to make problem solving, empathy, and teamwork fun, their first interactive storybook was created from over a year of feedback from parents, kids, and educators.

They introduce problem-solving through adventure, in which children follow their main character Myra as she meets new friends and creates solutions to the challenges that come up along the way.

The activities below are selections from Journey to Cloud City.

  • Extend the activities by using arts and crafts supplies to build the environments, solutions, and characters in real life after you’ve drawn on the printable!
  • Use pipe cleaners, pom-poms, building supplies such as Legos.
  • Re-use materials such as bottle caps and scrap cardboard.
  • Parents, work with you kids on the activities–they’re often just as much fun for adults as kids!
  • Remember to be as open-ended as possible when offering suggestions or asking your kids questions when they’re working on the activities.

The crew at MyraMakes is always interested in connecting with others who share their passion for inspiring kids as problem solvers, and would love to hear from parents, teachers, and others with collaborative opportunities or interesting stories to share at support@MyraMakes.com.

Enjoy the activity pages below!

Myra1

Myra2

Myra3

Myra4

Myra5

 

The History They Didn’t Teach in Grade School

turtle2-01My grandparents came here from Ireland through Ellis Island in the early 1900’s. Someone welcomed them, changed the spelling of their last name, and they were in. Neither had any appreciable skills, but they were willing to work hard to make a better life for their kids. America as we are today was built by hard working immigrants like them.

Now we have a President who wants only people from rich countries, only people with skills. In particular, he does not want people from Haiti. So I thought it was time to learn a little about the history of Haiti – the stuff they do not teach in grade school, because it doesn’t make the US look good.

So today’s blog was written by Jonathan M Katz (@KatzOnEarth) – Author, Fellow . Dir., Media & Journalism

“In order to do a victory lap around the GDP difference between, say, Norway and Haiti, you have to know nothing about the history of the world. That includes, especially, knowing nothing real about the history of the United States.

“You have to first of all understand nothing about the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade. You have to not understand anything about the systematic theft of African bodies and lives. And you have to not understand how that theft built the wealth we have today in Europe and the US.

“You’d have to not know that the French colony that became Haiti provided the wealth that fueled the French Empire — and 2/3 of the sugar and 3/4 of the coffee that Europe consumed. You’d have to not know how rich slave traders got off their system of kidnapping, rape, and murder.

“You’d have to not realize that Haiti was founded in a revolution against that system, and that European countries and the United States punished them for their temerity by refusing to recognize or trade with them for decades.

“You’d have to not know that Haiti got recognition by agreeing to pay 150 million gold francs to French landowners in compensation for their own freedom. You’d have to not know that Haiti paid it, and that it took them almost all of the 19th century to do so.

“You’d then have to not know that Haiti was forced to borrow some money to pay back that ridiculous debt, some of it from banks in the United States. And you’d have to not know that in 1914 those banks got President Wilson to send the US Marines to empty the Haitian gold reserve.

“You would have to not know about the chaos that ensued, and the 19-year US military occupation of Haiti that followed (at a time when the US was invading and occupying much of Central America and the Caribbean).

“You have to not know about the rest of the 20th century either—the systematic theft and oppression, US support for dictators and coups, the US invasions of Haiti in 1994-95 and 2004, the use of the IMF and World Bank to impose new loans and destructive trade policies, including the now-famous rice tariff gutting that Bill Clinton apologized for but had been a policy since Reagan, and on and on …

“And you’d have to understand nothing about why the US (under George W. Bush) pushed for and paid a quarter of the UN “stabilization mission” that did little but keep Haiti’s presidents from being overthrown and kill 10,000 people by dumping cholera in its rivers. Etc.

“In short, you’d have to know nothing about WHY Haiti is poor (or El Salvador in kind), and WHY the United States (and Norway) are wealthy. But far worse than that, you’d have to not even be interested in asking the question.

“Because what they are showing is that they ASSUME that Haiti is just naturally poor, that it’s an inherent state borne of the corruption of the people there, in all senses of the word. And let’s just say out loud why that is: It’s because Haitians are black.

“Racists have needed Haiti to be poor since it was founded. They pushed for its poverty. They have celebrated its poverty. They have tried to profit from its poverty. They wanted it to be a shithole. And they still do.

“If Haiti is a shithole, then they can say that black freedom and sovereignty are bad. They can hold it up as proof that white countries—and what’s whiter than Norway—are better, because white people are better. They wanted that in 1804, and in 1915, and they want it now.

“So if anyone tonight tries to trap you in a contest of “where would you rather live”—or “what about cholera” or “yeah but isn’t poverty bad?”—ask them what they know about how things got that way. And then ask them why they’re ok with it.”

They fought for their freedom against insane odds, and never gave up. After the earthquake hit in 2010, an estimated 160, 000 people died. An additional 9500 died afterwards from Cholera.

The people of Haiti are exactly the sort of people who have always made America great. Who better to be welcomed by the “Mother of Exiles,” then these “tired … poor …huddled masses yearning to breathe free?” A wealthy engineer from Norway? Not what America is all about.

Doc’s Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Raising Kids

Adorable Child Dressed As Doctor Playing With Toy Over White

Happy New Year! Time for those resolutions.

This year, instead of resolving to lose that last ten pounds or eat more veggies (I really need to eat less chocolate…), resolve to do something that will actually make your life better. The reward for parenting well is amazing kids and sanity – definitely worth the effort. You may already be doing all these things (is that even possible?), but skim through if you are merely human and could use some tips. So…

Dr. Lovlie’s Top 10 New Year’s Parenting Resolutions:

10.  Require chores. Equal participation is fundamental to receive the reward of being in a family. The pride your children feel serving the carrots they helped peel is well worth the time it takes to get them to do it. Every member of the family contributes, to the best of their ability. Family bonds and trust will form over the raking of leaves.

9.   Make rules, and enforce them consistently. Rules keep kids safe, teach them right from wrong, and civilize them. Make sure your child understands the rules, and every single adult in his life needs to enforce every rule each and every time. No “warnings,” because you made sure ahead of time that they understood the rule. Decide what the consequence will be for a broken rule long before you need to enforce it; make the punishment appropriate for the crime (timeout? loss of the toy? paying for the damage?). Read 5 Reasons Why Kids Need Rules.

8.   Feed the munchkin a healthy diet: whole foods that look like they either grew out of the ground or walked on it (I know, but not everyone is a vegetarian). Teach your children to eat when they’re hungry, and stop eating when they’re not hungry anymore. Aim for about 2/3 fruits, vegies and whole or enriched grains, and about 1/3 protein (meat, eggs, cheese, beans or nuts) and starch (potatoes, corn). Everything else will be easier if they are well nourished. Check out All the Right Foods.

7.   Keep a regular sleep schedule – both enough hours and at about the same time every day – as much as possible. Kids who are short on sleep are irritable, tired and have no attention span. Everything else will also be easier if he or she has had enough sleep.

6.   Keep them safe when possible. There are lots of surprises out there to keep life interesting; there is no need to risk preventable injuries. Use those seat belts and bike helmets, lock up the household poisons, guns and Grandma’s meds, and get those vaccines.

5.   Teach financial responsibility. Spend less than you make, stay out of debt, and save for the future. Do it where they can see you and explain what you are doing. Go through your budget with them in an age appropriate way, and feel free to say, “We can’t afford that.” Give them an allowance for those chores and require that they save some.

4.   Don’t wear blinders. Your primary job is to protect this child, even if it is sometimes from themselves. Children will lie, take things that are not theirs, and sneak out at night when they are 14. You need to catch them so that they learn that it doesn’t work. If they get caught stealing at 7, they have an embarrassing memory of having to go back and pay for what they took. If they get caught at 25, they land in jail and loose their job, partner, and children.

3.   Give them love without condition. Love the child you have, not the one you dreamed they would be. Love is not a prize you can give when your child is good, and take away when they do not live up to your expectations. Without the absolute faith that no matter what happens or what horrible thing they do you will still love them, the foundation on which they build their life will by shaky and unstable. You chose to have them – unconditional love was part of the deal.

2.   Nurture your child’s unique talents and abilities. Don’t try to fit the ones you want them to have on an unsuitable frame. This little person is an original – why would you want to shove him or her into a standard form? And what irreplaceable gifts would be forever lost because you did not value them? Respect the exceptional person that he or she is.

1.   Inspire them with your own life. Be what you hope for them. Find work you love, maintain a healthy relationship with your partner, eat a healthy diet, and exercise. Learn something new every day. Never lie. Give respect, and demand it for yourself. Keep an open mind, explore the world and grab opportunities when they happen by. Make your children proud.

Doc’s 7 Tips for a Safe & Happy Holiday Season

Cute Kid Girl In Glasses Thinking About Gift On Christmas HolidaMy daughter the anthropologist tells me that celebrations solidify relationships between people within a community, give them hope for the future, and serve as rights of passage.

These are excellent goals to keep in mind as you enter into the holiday insanity. What you want this season to mean to your children throughout their lives?

Do you want them to be involved in your community with its rich heritage and history? Emphasize that. Tell stories, act out events and celebrate your history. Help out people who are less fortunate.

Do you want holidays to strengthen family bonds? Put family first. Limit the decorating and shopping and work events, and hang out at home. Make gifts for each other, bake cookies and play games.

If you want holidays to be about joy, be joyful. Foster realistic expectations, appreciation for what they have and genuine values. Develop traditions that are more about time together as a family and less about how much stuff they get. The memories they keep forever will be the little things: sharing a bowl of popcorn while watching an old movie; reading a book while Mom or Dad runs fingers through their hair. Few people remember what they received for Christmas last year. They do remember that walk on Christmas Eve admiring the sparkling lights, tasting cookies straight out of the oven, and the look on Grandpa’s face when he got that homemade penholder.

Gifts

It’s tempting to get your children all the things they want for the holiday just to see them smile, but where do you go from there? Maniacal happiness is not joy. It cannot be sustained over time. Add to that that you have created unrealistic expectations for all the other holidays in their future. And the storage needs!

Restrain yourself. If holidays are about family time, board games, and baking cookies it is possible for holidays later in life to be happy. If holidays are about how much money was spent and how many new toys they received, how can real life ever work out? Bigger and better toys every year? That was not the goal.

If you can afford it, get them one or two of the things on their lists. Make them the ones they can create with, the ones that make them use their brains and bodies and talent. Add on some little things that are fun to open. Let little ones play with the boxes and bubble wrap. Then focus the day on family.

The Insanity

Don’t let holidays overwhelm you. There are so many expectations that no one can possibly meet them all and have any joy left. There are special foods that need to be prepared, special clothes that need to be bought, decorations, gifts, traditions to be followed, parties, travel, family… eeek! Weed out the excess so there is room left for joy, relaxation and rejoicing in whatever you were celebrating.

Before you decide to spend money on gifts or travel, be realistic about what you can afford. What did you get for your last birthday? Don’t remember? No one does. What people do remember is the conversation, the hugs and the warmth. Those are free. Take dollars out of the experience as much as possible and you won’t end up with a credit card bill for a present that was discarded six months ago. Don’t try to keep up with the people who have that bill and you won’t be laying awake at night and fighting with your spouse instead of relaxing snuggled up with hot chocolate.

Tune down the stress. Not spending more than you can afford will eliminate a huge amount of stress. Next, stop worrying about what other people think; they’re too busy worrying about what you think to care anyway. Keep to routines as much as possible. Sit down for meals; take some time to focus on each other. Step back from the hysteria and think about whether your progeny will actually play with that new doll or just stuff it in a corner, and whether you really need to travel or attend all the parties. Take some quiet time and relax. The world will not collapse if you skip a party or miss the line for the “it” gift. It will collapse if your child is so exhausted and stressed that he or she has a melt down.

Health

Keep healthy. The week after a holiday is always busy at my office. I make lots of money from airplanes crowded with sick people and stores packed with germy carts. Get enough rest, and hydrate. Use hand sanitizer. Eat as healthfully as possible–avoid fast foods, throw in some fruits and vegies. Hide the caffeine and limit alcohol. Get a flu shot. Nothing can destroy a holiday quicker than a trip to the ER.

  • Avoid injuries. Most holiday injuries have nothing to do with the particular holiday, but everything to do with people being so busy that they are not as watchful as usual. Sports are more dangerous when we want to impress cousins. Teenagers tend to get more reckless during a celebration, and young children sneak away quickly. Most holiday injuries are from everyday activities and household objects made dangerous by the holiday craziness.
  • Chokings and poisonings are popular. The one I see most is an overdose on Grandma’s meds. At Grandma’s home they are left on countertops; at your home they are in her purse. A left over drink is a common way to poison children. A little alcohol can drop a child’s blood sugar and throw him or her into a coma.
  • Toddlers will put anything in their mouths. Unfortunately this means that everybody needs to pick up their stuff. Items over 1¼ inch in diameter are generally safe. Smaller items than that can go straight into their gut or lung. The most dangerous items to swallow are batteries and magnets; the most dangerous to choke on are grape sized (older children’s toys, hard candy) or stretchy (balloons, plastic bags, marshmallows). Clean up!
  • Holidays also provide a banquet of things to irritate children’s allergies. Live trees indoors, foods, cigarette smoke, wood fires and other people’s homes and pets come to mind. Avoid them if your child has allergies.
  • Fires and electrical injuries are especially common during holidays. Decorations can be flammable, old Christmas trees will be dry, and space heaters, candles and fires are commonly nearby. Frayed and loose wires easily start fires. Keep your eyes open for dangers.
  • Use your common sense during celebrations. If it doesn’t seem safe, don’t let people pressure you into it. Feel free to let watching your kids take precedence over seeing Uncle Joe’s trophy or Aunt Mary’s vacation photos. “He’ll be fine” doesn’t make him fine. Keep an eye on him, or her.
  • Feel free to be rude and head for home when the kids get tired, if a situation feels out of control, or if your child is being exposed to something you aren’t happy with. Use the munchkin’s youth or fatigue as the excuse for you to head home, relax and read a bedtime story.

Remember that the point of celebrations is to solidify relationships and give hope for the future. Get there by focusing on your history, rejoicing in your present and not sabotaging your future. Don’t go crazy with gifts: they don’t teach your children anything you want them to learn and the financial stress will eat away at that joy and hope you were dreaming of. Pick fewer things to do, and do them together. Be safe and stay healthy.

The Weird and Interesting Life of a Flu Virus

shutterstock_87645001The first description we have of the influenza virus was from Hippocrates (my hero!) 2400 years ago. He dealt with it every winter, endlessly, just as we do now. Nowadays it makes between 3 and 5 million people sick each year, and kills 250 to 500 thousand people annually. In the US we average 200 thousand hospitalizations and 36 thousand deaths yearly. Persistent, nasty little bugger.

Influenza gets its name from the Italian word for influence, because people initially thought it was caused by the influence of the stars, and later by the influence of the cold. Now we know better.

The Anatomy of a Flu Virus:

The influenza  virus is a tiny spherical particle, only 80-120 nanometers in size. It would take a million of them standing in a row to make a 1 centimeter line. Its core is made of 8 separate segments of RNA (we humans have DNA). This core is surrounded by protective proteins and an envelop with 2 types of “glycoproteins”–the famous Hs and Ns you hear about when people talk about which type of flu is causing problems each year: Hemagglutinins and Neuraminidases.

NPR has a very cool video of the flu virus invading a cell here. The “key” in the video is the hemagglutinin.

How the Virus Works:

The Hemagglutinins (Hs) bind to target cells in your body and inject the virus particle into your cells. How contagious the flu is, what symptoms it gives you, and how sick it can make you depends on the Hs. An H that can bind to cells in your eyes, nose, and mouth is more contagious than one that can only bind to your throat. An H that can bind to a cell deep in your lung is much more serious than one that can only bind to a cell in your throat.

The Neuraminidases (Ns) release the progeny of that prolific particle from that cell so that the little critters can spread further through your body.

How we Fight it:

The Hs and Ns are the molecules our immune systems build antibodies against, whether we catch the flu or just get exposed to the dead virus in the annual vaccine. The Hs and Ns are also the targets for antiviral drugs. There are 16 different Hs and 9 different Ns. Humans are usually infected with H 1, 2, or 3 and N 1 and 2.

There are three groups (genera) of flu viruses in the family Orthomyxoviridae. (I love that word: Ortho-myxo-vir-i-dae.) The three groups are simply labeled A, B, and C. We frequently call the flu by which animal is its main host. Human, bird, and swine are the most common strains we humans catch.

Flu A has the most serogroups (Hs and Ns), infects the most different animals, and is the most virulent. It also mutates 2-3 times faster than B. The critters it infects are mostly aquatic birds, but it can infect many other species.

Flu B has only one serogroup and is almost exclusive to humans. It tends to be less severe and less common. Since it only has one serogroup and mutates slowly, many people develop a degree of immunity to it.

Flu C is even less common and less severe.

What makes Flu unique among viruses:

Viruses enter cells so that they can make copies of themselves and spread. As they make those copies they sometimes make mistakes, creating mutations. They average one mistake per copy, so mutation is constant– what we call antigenic drift. That’s why we never get immune to Flu A–it changes every year.

There is one really cool thing about the flu virus that makes it different from most viruses: its RNA is split into 8 segments. (Most viruses have one long piece of RNA.)

This means that if your local pig catches 2 different strains of flu at the same time, these strains can trade segments. When that happens we get antigenic shifts– much larger changes for which people have no immunity. These larger shifts can create a pandemic, like the Spanish flu in 1918 that killed an estimated 21 million people. We average 3 pandemics each century. We worry a lot about pandemics.

So, those are the ABCs of the flu virus. If you crave something more useful, like what you can do about it, check out my post on colds and flu or info on fever.

Now wash those little hands with soap, keep them away from noses and mouths, break out the bleach, and go get those flu shots! The shots cover an H1N1 and H3N2 Flu A, and two strains of B.

Why Can’t the Doc Fix My Kids’ 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 corona, or crown).

coronavirus-01

Coronavirus

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 well 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.

How to Keep your Kid Alive and Still Have a Happy Halloween

Kids Carving Pumpkin At HalloweenTime again for the annual “How to keep your kid alive and still have a happy Halloween” article. I know you’ve read this sort of thing before, but skim through – you might see something you forgot!

First, costumes:

From tiny ones who want to be lions to preteens dripping blood, costumes are the best part of Halloween. For a few hours we suspend boring reality and play at being something else. How better to encourage creativity and imagination?

Please try for bright, easy-to-see colors. Check to make sure the fabric is flame retardant and add reflective tape. Make sure the costume fits well so your little guy won’t trip. Stick your little gal’s feet into comfortable shoes. Pin a paper with their name, address and phone number inside their pockets in case you get separated.

Paint their faces so they don’t need to wear masks that can obstruct their vision.

Be careful about those accessories! Long scythes and pitchforks can be trip hazards.

Accessories should be soft, short, obviously fake, and flexible. Guns that look real have caused problems when people were unsure they were toys. Arm them with a flashlight with fresh batteries instead.

Home décor:

I once put a big fat candle on a table decorated with straw. It took my next-door neighbor–a fireman–raising his brow sardonically for me to see that this was not a terribly bright idea. So. Be careful where you put flame. Fire inside a floor level pumpkin with costumes sweeping by–not so good. Try battery powered candles or glow sticks instead. The firemen will appreciate it.

Only the grown ups get to use sharp objects, so pumpkin carving is for big people only. Nothing ruins a holiday like a trip to the ER. Kids can design with markers or paint.

Last, inspect your yard and home for trip hazards such as bikes and hoses. Check for frayed wires, and poorly lit areas.

Trick-or-treating:

There are, I admit, children who may disagree with me about costumes being the best part of Halloween. There is that other thing they like a lot: running around neighborhoods screaming maniacally and getting free candy. I would frown upon such activity but I have fond memories of doing the same.

The number one way children are seriously hurt on Halloween is by running in front of cars in the excitement of the moment. Teach your kids basic safety, know where they are, and know who they are with.

Kids under 12 walk with a grown-up (No, that is not up for debate; blame it on me if they disagree.) Over 12, it depends on the maturity of the child and the safety of the neighborhood. If they are not with a grown-up, they need to travel in a group, on a preplanned path. If you can find a neighborhood where they close off the streets, enjoy! If not, hike through a familiar neighborhood (it can’t hurt to check the registered sex offender site and avoid those houses).

Trick-or-treaters need to stay in well-lit areas, avoiding short cuts, alleys and darkness. Use sidewalks and walk facing traffic. Be careful when crossing the street: even if the approaching car does see your child, the one behind him or her might not. Make sure they know to never approach parked cars and never enter a house. Have your big kid carry a cell phone and check in every hour. Agree on a curfew.

When they get home, go through their haul. Throw out anything that looks like it was tampered with, anything home made (if you don’t know the maker), choking hazards, and whatever else you can get away with. Freeze some for holiday cookies later.

Pets

Last, take care to keep your pets safe during the holiday. Keep chocolate and anything sweetened with xylitol away from your dog. Watch for choking hazards and yummy electric wires, and lock your four legged ones away from the front door so they won’t escape when the hoodlums knock.

Happy Haunting!

How to Educate your Kids with Games, Art, and Fun, Part 2!

Remember Education.com? They’ve given me another project – a spelling lesson disguised as a crossword puzzle!

Your child can learn about the wonders of the sea as he or she explores the ocean-themed crossword puzzle below. For more spelling resources go to Education.com.

Education.com was built with the contributions of thousands of teachers. They have FREE activities for kids from preschool to high school that help them succeed in science, math, reading, writing, and social studies.

They teach with games, songs, worksheets, interactive exercises, hands-on activities, and more.

Check out Education.com for other innovative educational opportunities for every age child.

crossword

And the answers are …

crossword-answers