Preventing the Flu (and What to Do If Your Kid Gets it Anyway)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this year’s influenza season reached epidemic levels in much of the U.S. during the last week of December, ominously early in the season. That’s bad enough, but this season’s dominant flu strain, H3N2, is a particularly mean one. Because it “drifted” (genetically mutated) from the H3N2 strain chosen for the 2014/15 influenza vaccine, the shot is very effective at preventing it.

The H3N2 flu virus is most dangerous for young children; 21 have died from the flu or its complications as of Jan.7. It’s also most dangerous for adults aged 65 and over, and those with compromised immune systems. In general, H3N2 strains cause longer-lasting and more severe symptoms, resulting in more complications and hospitalizations than other strains.

Nevertheless, getting vaccinated* is still your child’s first—and surest—line of defense.

Why? This season’s vaccine contains several inactive flu strains, including H3N2. It works great in preventing the others and it offers at least some protection against H3N2. In addition, if you or your child does catch the flu, the vaccine may reduce its intensity and/or shorten its duration.

Finally, the more people who’re vaccinated against the flu, the less it can spread. Vaccinating helps everyone.

Preventing the Flu

It’s pretty tough to keep children from catching whatever cold or flu virus is making the rounds. But there are some things you can do:

·      teach your child to wash her hands with warm water and soap several times a day. Hand-washing effectively kills the virus.

·      if soap and water aren’t available or convenient, antibacterial gels work, too.

·      teach your child to cough or sneeze into the crook of her elbow. This prevents any virus—the flu or rhinoviruses, which cause the common cold, among them—from becoming airborne. It also keeps the virus away from her hands so she can’t leave it on the things she touches or handles.

·      keep your child at home from play-dates, school, and outings if she starts sneezing or coughing to prevent spreading the flu or a cold to others.

·      Avoid crowds whenever possible.

What If My Kid Catches the Flu Anyway?

Unlike the common cold, flu symptoms hit fast and hard. Watch for a stopped up or runny nose, dry cough, fver over 100 F, chills and sweats, headache, muscle aches, especially in the back, arms, and legs, and weakness/fatigue.

During flu season, if your child starts sneezing or coughing, take her to the doctor as soon as possible. Antiviral medications, given within 48 hours of the flu’s onset, can lessen the severity of the symptoms and shorten its duration. Other things you can do include:

·      make sure your child gets lots of rest, which helps the immune system fight the infection

·      prevent dehydration—a serious complication—by having your child drink plenty of water, juice, and warm broth or soup. Her urine should be clear or pale yellow.

·      you can, if you wish, give your child over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, for the aches and pains that flu can cause. Never, never give aspirin.

·      keep your child warm and comfortable, and provide her with ways to distract herself from her discomfort. Toys, games, videos—they’ll all help get her through it.

*If you’re concerned about the preservatives used in vaccines, be aware that these do not cause autism or other problems in children. In addition, allergic reactions to the flu vaccine are exceedingly rare, and it does not cause the flu. If you’re still concerned, ask your doctor for the single-dose form of the vaccine, which does not contain any preservatives.

How do you keep your kids healthy during cold and flu season?

Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience. She lives in Northern California and writes for Healthline.

References:

·      What You Should Know About the 2014-2015 Flu Season. (2015, Jan. 6) Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved on January 7, 2015.

·      Influenza (Flu). (2014, Oct. 25) Mayo Clinic. Retrieved on January 7, 2015.

Posted on February 26, 2015 at 5:37 PM