Flu Season is here

Influenza: What to do if you get sick

Influenza is also known as the “flu” and a contagious upper respiratory virus. The virus can cause mild to severe illness and at times even death. Children infected with influenza may experience all or some of these symptoms: fever (>100.4°F), chills, headache, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, cough, fatigue, and vomiting or diarrhea. Typically children may be sick for 5-14 days. Influenza commonly causes complications such as pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, and bronchitis. If your child’s symptoms do not improve in two weeks, they may have developed one of these infections. Some patients may be considered high risk if they develop the flu. High risk patients would include infants less than 6 months and children with underlying medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or cancer.

You do not need to go the emergency room unless you are having an emergency. If you go to the emergency room and do not have the flu, you might actually catch it from someone who does. There are some emergency warning signs for influenza. If you notice your child has any of these symptoms you need to seek medical attention:

  • Fast or trouble breathing

  • Not drinking enough fluids

  • Not waking up or interacting

  • Being so irritable the child does not want to be held

  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

  • Fever with rash

  • Decreased wet diapers or urine output

The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine every year, if your child is older than 6 months. Also make sure to practice good hand washing and avoid sharing drinks with others.

Since influenza is a viral infection, treatment includes supportive measures to help the body fight off the infection. Encouraging fluid intake to prevent dehydration. Managing the fever with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Also encourage your child to stay away from others and get plenty of rest. Your child needs to stay home until he or she has been fever-free for 24 hours, without fever reducing medication. This helps to decrease the spread of the flu virus to others.

Antiviral medication like Tamiflu, is also prescribed to treat influenza. Antiviral medication is different from antibiotics and only helps to protect healthy cells from infection. The medicine does not kill or reverse the influenza infection. This is why this medication is best started as soon as symptoms onset, within the first 24-48 hours. In children who are very sick (for example,children who are hospitalized), antiviral medication can help to shorten the duration of influenza by 24-48 hours and prevent serious complications. Young infants and children that have an underlying medical condition are more at risk for these complications. Most otherwise-healthy people who get the flu, do not need to be treated with antiviral drugs. Tamiflu in particular comes with it’s own list of side effects. These include: upset stomach, vomiting, change in behaviors, nightmares. The liquid formulation of Tamiflu has a bad taste and can be difficult to administer to young children. Tamiflu can also be quite expensive even with insurance it can sometimes cost over $100. Most healthy children with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If your child has symptoms of flu and is in a high risk group, or is very sick or you’re worried about your child’s illness, contact your healthcare provider.