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Children’s of Alabama on How Parents Can Protect Kids from the Flu

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In Alabama, most school systems begin the new school year while it’s still late summer, but back-to-school time means flu season is just around the corner.

Emergency physicians at Children’s of Alabama are encouraging parents and other caregivers be sure to get their flu shots and make sure children in their care are vaccinated, too.

“There are several things parents can teach their children to reduce the likelihood of contracting the flu or a cold that has flu-related symptoms,” said Dr. Kathy Monroe, a professor of pediatrics at UAB and the Medical Director of the Children’s of Alabama Emergency Department.

“Children should get a flu shot. Secondly, during flu season, if your child exhibits flu-like symptoms – like fever, muscle aches or a cough – the absolute best thing you can do for a child who is mildly ill is keep them home to rest and also so they don’t spread germs to classmates and teachers. We recommend contacting your child’s regular physician by telephone. Often, visiting a doctor’s office is not necessary.”

Children’s treated 73,403 patients in its ED last year, an average of more than 200 a day. Physicians at Children’s remind parents that with that kind of volume visiting an emergency room can be counter-productive if you have a non-urgent concern like symptoms of the flu. Visiting an ED with the flu also exposes children with underlying conditions who can’t fight infection as well as others.

Monroe said children who are laboring to breath, have concerns for dehydration such as a low urine output or have a pre-existing medical condition – like asthma, sickle cell disease, diabetes, cancer – should be treated in an emergency room immediately.

“Certainly we advise visiting an emergency room if your child is experiencing respiratory distress, has dehydration or has an illness when the child also has an underlying medical condition,” she said, adding that both Children’s and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children be in the care of a primary care physician (pediatrician or family practice physician).

Here are some FAQs on the 2019-2020 flu season that appeared on the official blog of Children’s of Alabama:

Q: What is influenza or flu?

A: Influenza (also known as the flu) is an infection of the respiratory tract. It is caused by a virus that spreads easily from person to person.  It spreads when people cough or sneeze out droplets that are infected with the virus and other people breathe them in. The droplets also can land on things like doorknobs or shopping carts, infecting people who touch these things.

Q: Is flu contagious?

A: The flu is very contagious. People can spread it from a day before they feel sick until their symptoms are gone. This is about one week for adults, but it can be longer for young children.

Q: How will I know if my child has flu and not just a cold?

A: The fall and winter months are cold and flu season. Both the cold and the flu can present similar symptoms, including cough, congestion and runny nose. In general, the flu hits a lot harder and quicker than a cold. When people have the flu, they usually feel worse than they do with a cold. Most people start to feel sick about two days after they come in contact with the flu virus.

Flu symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • muscle or body aches
  • dizziness
  • loss of appetite
  • tiredness or fatigue
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • nausea or vomiting
  • weakness
  • ear pain
  • diarrhea or vomiting, ( more common in children than adults)

Q: Is it too late for my child to get this season’s flu vaccine?

A: There’s still time to get a flu vaccine this season. Flu season in the United States is from October to May. Vaccines are provided at most pediatricians’ offices. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the flu shot for everyone over 6 months old.

Q: What is the treatment for flu?

A: Most children with flu get better at home. In the event a child does get sick, you can help mitigate symptoms. Make sure your child is drinking plenty of fluids. You can give appropriate doses of acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve fever and aches, and make sure they are getting plenty of rest.

Q: When should I seek medical treatment for my child if I suspect flu?

A: Bring your child to the doctor if you’re concerned about severe symptoms. Most of the time parents can care for their children with plenty of rest, fluids and extra comfort. Some children are more likely to have problems when they get the flu, including:

  • children up to the age of 5, especially babies
  • children and teens whose immune system is weakened from medicines or illnesses
  • children and teens with chronic (long-term) medical conditions, such as asthma or diabetes

Q: In addition to the flu vaccine, how else can we stay healthy during cold and flu season?

A:  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the flu shot for everyone over 6 months old. Here are some other tips for staying healthy during cold and flu season:

  • Cover your cough and sneeze
  • Wash your hands
  • Clean living and working areas
  • Avoid crowds
  • Stay home from work or school if you are sick
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth

Q: How can we prevent the spread of germs in our house if my child is sick?

A: The flu virus spreads when people cough or sneeze out droplets that are infected with the virus and other people breathe them in. The droplets also can land on things like doorknobs or shopping carts, infecting people who touch these things.

Teaching children the importance of hand washing is the best way to stop germs from causing sickness. It’s especially important after coughing or nose blowing, after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food.

There’s a right way to wash hands, too. Use warm water and plenty of soap, then rub your hands together vigorously for at least 15 seconds (away from the water). Children can sing a short song — try “Happy Birthday” — during the process to make sure they spend enough time washing. Rinse your hands and finish by drying them well on a clean towel. Hand sanitizer can be a good way for children to kill germs on their hands when soap and water aren’t available.

Cleaning household surfaces well is also important. Wipe down frequently handled objects around the house, such as toys, doorknobs, light switches, sink fixtures, and flushing handles on the toilets.

Soap and water are perfectly fine for cleaning. If you want something stronger, you can try an antibacterial cleanser. It may not kill all the germs that can lead to sickness, but it can reduce the amount of bacteria on an object.

It’s generally safe to use any cleaning agent that’s sold in stores but try to avoid using multiple cleaning agents or chemical sprays on a single object because the mix of chemicals can irritate skin and eyes.

Q: If my child has had flu, when can he return to school, child care, etc.?

A: Children with the flu should stay home from school and childcare until they feel better. They should only go back when they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without using a fever-reducing medicine. Some children need to stay home longer. Ask the doctor what’s best for your child.

Find more information and resources at https://www.childrensal.org/cold-and-flu-updates-and-resources.