Saturday, January 26, 2013

It's Flu Season!

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It is flu season (and has been since December)! The media tells us that influenza (flu) is on the decline. Maybe so--but there is still plenty of it out there. 

Friday in the office I evaluated 8-10 children with flu-like symptoms: sudden onset of high fever, cough, body aches, headache, runny nose, sore throat, and fatigue. They all looked miserable, with fever and sometimes chills, slightly glassy and reddish eyes, cough, and exhaustion.

Flu looks different from a cold. Kids with the flu are not usually smiling and perky in the office. Sometimes there is vomiting and loose stools--but these are just part of the whole picture, not the main symptoms.

Flu vaccines ARE helping this year--though we have had a few break through infections even in those who were immunized. Overall, the majority of children with confirmed influenza have not had their flu shots. Even if the vaccine did not completely prevent the flu, the symptoms in the immunized have been less severe and lasting for a shorter amount of time.

The high fever, cough, body aches, headache, runny nose, sore throat, and fatigue that come with the flu often last for a full week. It is important to be sure the patient gets enough fluids throughout their illness so they do not become dehydrated. Rest is also important. People with flu and fever should not go to school or other activities. Even if the fever comes down with some ibuprofen or acetaminophen the patient is still contagious to others and needs to rest to achieve a full recovery.

Medication for the flu includes Tamiflu, an antiviral antibiotic. In cases of influenza, if started within the first 24-48 hours of the symptoms, it can reduce the severity and length of the symptoms. Unfortunately, Tamiflu suspension tastes terrible and it has been quite difficult for parents to get their young children to take it. In addition, sometimes Tamiflu can be hard to find in the community. Tamiflu is not as good for flu as amoxicillin is for strep throat--it's definitely not an instant cure. Although pediatricians are encouraged to prescribe it for flu patients, I have found parents have a very difficult time getting it into their children. I tried it with my own kids a few years ago, and it is not a happy memory (as the doctor did not succeed in getting her own children to take it!).

Get a flu vaccine for your children if you are able to do so. Keep your children at home, resting, and drinking lots of fluids if they have the flu. Go to the doctor's office early in the illness if you think your child might benefit from Tamiflu. Good luck, I hope it's over soon!