Your child's favorite classmate is sick? You’re not alone. Two prominent flu strains are circulating this flu season, with widespread flu activity across most states. Already this flu season, there have been more than 9.7 million confirmed cases of the flu.
And with headlines in the media focusing on flu complications, vaccine mismatches and even child deaths, what's a parent to do to protect their children?
We spoke with Timothy Snyder, MD, a pediatrician at Franciscan Physician Network Pediatrics West Lafayette, about protecting your children from catching the flu – and what to do if your child comes down with flu symptoms.
Why Is This Flu Season Worse?
"The 2017-2018 flu season was the worst flu season in many years, but we are thinking 2019-2020 is just as bad," Dr. Snyder said. "It started a little earlier. While we were prepared with vaccines, the viruses did get a head start."
If My Child Had A Flu Vaccine, Can He Still Get The Flu?
Flu viruses are constantly evolving, and vaccines are developed months in advance of a flu season based on predictions, international trends and how well (or not) the previous years' vaccines worked.
"They try to form vaccines the best they can based upon strains they see in other parts of the world," Dr. Snyder said. "Even if it's not 100% effective, it can lessen the symptoms if you do have the flu."
Still, vaccination is the best bet for protecting your child from the flu. Studies show that vaccines can reduce the risk of becoming sick from flu viruses by as much as 60 percent.
"The trend we're noticing is the children who didn't get vaccinated are developing type A," he said. "The ones who had preventive vaccinations are developing type B. It's pretty consistent."
Should I Keep My Child Home If He's Been Exposed To Flu?
"We generally encourage parents to send their child to school and follow good health guidelines. If everyone washed their hands, there'd be less illness. Encourage your children to wash hands, not share utensils or drinks, and cover their coughs."
Keep your child home if he or she has a fever of 100.5 or higher, and most schools have a 24-hour waiting period after a fever has ended.
How Do I Tell If My Child Has The Flu?
"With influenza it's like the worst cold a child has ever had," Dr. Snyder said. "They generally appear more ill and may have a high temperature of 102-103, chills, achiness in their bones. When you walk into the room and see your child, they really appear more ill than you're used to seeing your child."
Symptoms of the flu can include:
- Fever or feeling feverish
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Vomiting and diarrhea
Flu symptoms can last a few days to more than a week, however, antiviral medications started within 48 hours of a fever's onset has been shown to lessen the intensity and duration of the illness, Dr. Snyder said.
What Should I Do If My Child Has The Flu?
"Focus on the hydration," Dr. Snyder advises. "You cannot go too long without hydration. Focus on oral hydration, such as Pedialyte or Gatorade, making sure your child has normal urine output."
Fevers can be treated with Tylenol or Motrin and with tepid baths. If it has been less than 48 hours since the fevers' onset, talk with your pediatrician about the possibility of antiviral medications.
What Flu Complications Should I Watch For?
The flu may also accompany other bacterial or viral conditions, including ear infections, sinus infections pneumonia and encephalitis.
"Watch for things such as complaining about ear hurting, labored breathing or paleness," Dr. Snyder said.
Additionally, children who are under the age of 2 or who were born prematurely or have underlying medical conditions such as asthma or neurological conditions, are at higher risk of complications from the flu. For these children, an annual flu vaccine to reduce risk of flu illnesses is extremely important.
What Are Emergency Signs With The Flu?
According to the CDC, children experiencing these warning signs should obtain medical care right away.
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish lips or face
- Ribs pulling in with each breath
- Chest pain
- Severe muscle pain (child refuses to walk)
- Dehydration (no urine for 8 hours, dry mouth, no tears when crying)
- Not alert or interacting when awake
- Fever above 104°F
- In children less than 12 weeks, any fever
- Fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen
- Worsening of chronic medical conditions