Has the flu reached your home? Here’s the 411.

By Patsy Stinchfield

Patsy Stinchfield

Flu season arrived early this year and with more severity than in recent years. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48 states had reported influenza during the week of Jan. 6-12. There were nine influenza-related pediatric deaths during that week, bringing the total to 29.

We have seen a record number of influenza cases at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. We’re seeing lab-confirmed influenza cases at rates higher than our highest week during H1N1. We’ve taken steps here to help prevent spreading the flu, including updating our visitor guidelines.

The No. 1 way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated. And it’s not too late for that. We have more tips on preventing the flu here. In case the flu has reached your family, here are some helpful tips for taking care of your child.

What’s the difference between the cold and the flu and how can I tell?

Sometimes it’s hard to know whether a child has a cold or the flu because she may cough, have a runny nose, sore throat and fatigue with both. With the flu, a child tends to have a high fever. It comes on more suddenly with more severe fatigue and body aches.  Colds come on more gradually, and many kids may feel well enough to keep playing and going to school. Clinics use a rapid nose swab test to determine if someone has influenza.

What should I do if I suspect influenza?

Most cases of influenza are mild and can be managed at home with rest, plenty of fluids, and fever-reducing medicines.  Tender-loving care is good medicine, too. Most over-the-counter “cough and cold” medicines do not help a sick child get better faster and won’t have much effect on influenza. Sometimes, the flu can make a child very ill and a visit to the clinic or emergency room is necessary.

When should I take my child to the Emergency Department?

Take your child to be checked if there is difficulty breathing (fast, grunt-sounding, noisy breathing or small breaths), the color looks bad (pale or bluish), they aren’t drinking fluids often or urinating at least once every eight hours or just aren’t themselves and you’re worried.  Signs of dehydration are dry lips, sunken eyes, sleepiness or crankiness.  Children who seem like they’re getting better and then suddenly get worse should be taken to the Emergency Department immediately.  This could mean they have another infection in addition to the flu.

What are the best ways to get my child’s fever down when she has the flu?

Fever is one of the tools our immune system uses to kill germs.  However, children with high fever can feel quite miserable, get crabby, have trouble waking up and may drink less fluids causing dehydration. If you can’t keep the fever down with a fever-reducing medicine such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen, then the child should be taken to the clinic or Emergency Department.

Is there anything else I can do to help make my child more comfortable?

You can keep your child home from day care, school, sports or other activities and have them rest early in their illness and until they show signs of getting back to “their normal.” If your child doesn’t want to eat regular meals, don’t insist, but do make sure they drink small amounts of fluids every hour to prevent dehydration.

Is there anything I can do to help my child recover more quickly?

There is an anti-viral medicine called Tamiflu that can be given to children as young as 2 weeks of age. This is used if the child has moderate or severe influenza and works best if given in the first two days of illness.  Tamiflu usually cuts the severity and number of days of illness in half.

How long will my child be contagious?

Influenza is most contagious the day before symptoms present through about day five of illness. Your child should stay home from school during this time. After viral illnesses, kids can have lingering muscle or body aches and really do need time to rest and recover before rushing back to school. Depending on the severity of the flu, this may be a few days to a few weeks.  Most kids recover within a week. Most schools require that your child be fever-free (without the help of medicines) for two days before returning to school or day care. For more information, visit the CDC.

Patsy Stinchfield is a nurse practitioner and the director of the Infectious Disease Division at Children’s. Follow her on Twitter and watch her videos on Clear.MD.


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