With the winter season upon us, parents are bracing for the approaching flu season. While many of us have heard of the flu, and maybe have even had the flu, there are some things we may not know about influenza. Dr. Manuel Carmona, MD, a pediatric emergency physician at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hosptial’s Steinbrenner Emergency Room answers the question most on our minds: is it a cold, or is it the flu, and what do I do about it?
What are flu symptoms in kids and how do they differ from the symptoms of the common cold?
Initially, you can’t differentiate a cold from the flu in the first day or two. Both have runny nose and a low grade fever. In influenza, the fever spikes higher than a cold and there are thick secretions, as well as respiratory symptoms like coughing. By the second or third day, you will begin to notice a difference.
Should a child with symptoms of the flu be taking to the emergency room?
No, if a child is healthy with no other symptoms their pediatrician or family doctor is capable of treating the child. However, if the child has chronic problems or needs an albuterol treatment for respiratory issues, you should call your pediatrician and they will determine if you need to take your child to the emergency room.
How is the flu treated?
In general, you treat the symptoms. Anti-viral medications can help, for example if your child has the flu and their sibling is starting to show symptoms and you are able to catch it early, anti-viral medications can help take 1 to 2 days off of the symptoms, however that is only if it caught in the first day or two.
When treating the symptoms of the flu, parents should use Tylenol to break a fever, or they can use room-temperature wet rags. Parents should not give their child a cold bath or a bath in alcohol because the vessels will constrict and it will actually make them retain the heat. You should also NEVER give aspirin to your child when they have a fever. Parents also should not wrap the child up to sweat out the fever, it will only drive the fever up.
You should also keep your child hydrated, as dehydration is a common symptom of the flu. Nasal secretions can also be dealt with by using salt water drops. Not every symptom can or needs to be treated with medicines.
What are common complications that kids can get from the flu?
Complications come when the symptoms begin becoming worse. Common complications are dehydration and diarrhea, which is because the fever makes you lose a lot of water. Other complications can be viral pneumonia and worsening respiratory symptoms.
At what age can my child get a flu shot?
The CDC recommends that children over 6 months get the flu shot.
How can I prevent my child from getting the flu?
Prevention is key. Aside from getting the flu shot, make sure that your kids are washing their hands. Make sure that your kids and the people around your kids are not coughing or sneezing without covering their mouths. The main thing is that kids have got to wash their hands.
Dr. Manuel Carmona, MD is a pediatric emergency physician with the Steinbrenner Emergency Room at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital. For more information on flu prevention or additional classes and education, visit BayCare.org.