” Roses are red, violets are blue; with chill in the air, I’m suffering from flu“!!
Recently there has been news regarding major outbreaks of swine flu in Rajasthan in India. It has caused severe illness and even death and the cases are now spilling over to Northern India including Delhi as well. Every year it’s the same story. We as doctors have seen that what devastation this simple virus can cause. With so much scare, it is understandable to have doubts in your mind regarding as to what we are dealing with and how to protect our kids from it.
Here I attempt to address the common questions in your mind about the flu illness.
What is flu?
Influenza (also known as seasonal flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infects the nose, throat and lungs. It is different than the common cold what we normally hear about and might be dangerous for children especially those younger than 5 years.
Is flu same as swine flu?
Flu/influenza virus are divided into 3 major types: A, B and C, out of which influenza A is the most common virus implicated in illness, which we know as seasonal flu. A subtype of Influenza A virus, is the swine flu virus (medically known as H1N1 virus and more recently H3N2, they have similar clinical presentation but much higher severity than normal flu).
How does flu spread?
As with any other respiratory infection, the flu virus is spread mainly by
- Droplet spread: Droplets are made, when someone with flu coughs, sneezes or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby (virus can travel as far as 6 feet).
- Direct contact: A person also can get flu by touching something that has flu virus on it and then touching their mouth, eyes, or nose.
When is the flu season?
In India, flu season usually starts in July/August and second peak comes in winters between December to February.
What are the common symptoms of flu which I should look out for in my child?
Flu symptoms can include a sudden high fever, dry, hacking cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, feeling tired and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults). The symptoms might sometimes resemble a common cold but are of higher severity. Children with the flu usually feel much sicker, achier, and more miserable.
How serious can be flu?
Flu illness can vary from mild to severe (can be even life threatening as with swine flu). At risk groups are: Children younger than 5 years and children of any age with certain long-term health problems (e.g. diabetes, asthma etc).
How long can a sick child or person spread flu to others?
People with flu may be able to infect others from 1 day before getting sick to up to 5 to 7 days after. A person may be able to pass on flu to someone else before knowing that he himself is sick. Severely ill people or young children may be able to spread the flu longer (some even up to 14 days), especially if they still have symptoms.
Can I send my child to school or day care if he or she doesn’t seem too sick?
No. As flu is a highly contagious disease, your child should stay home to rest and to avoid spreading flu to other children or caregivers.
When can I send my child back to school or day care after having flu?
Keep your child home from school or day care for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone.
How can I protect my child from flu?
The best way to protect against flu is to get a yearly flu vaccine for yourself and your child, advised before the start of the flu season. It takes about Two Weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body, so make plans to get vaccinated early. Certain considerations:
a. The vaccination is recommended yearly for everyone 6 months and older, more so in children with chronic health conditions.
b. Babies younger than 6 months are although at high risk for serious flu complications but cannot be given the vaccine. So, for them keeping away from anybody who is sick is the best way to prevent the infection.
A flu vaccine can keep your child from getting sick and thus preventing hospitalization. Even if he/she does get sick, it is much milder than what they would get if they are not vaccinated. The vaccine is about 60% effective.
Why does my doctor advise a yearly flu vaccine for my child?
Flu viruses are constantly changing due to ongoing mutations, which means that people can get infected multiple times throughout their lives. It is possible that the strain which is causing flu this year is totally different from what was circulating last year.
Therefore, flu vaccines are updated yearly as per the recent strain to ensure continued effectiveness of the vaccines.
I don’t wish to get my child vaccinated but are there some other ways I can protect my child against flu?
Although vaccination is considered as the best method of protection but there are certain measures which can be taken:
- Stay away from people who are sick as much as possible to keep from getting your child sick.
- If your child is sick, avoid others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- Avoid crowded places and public transportation especially during the flu season.
- Remember to regularly cover your coughs and sneezes
- Wash your hands often
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and assumed clean surfaces that may be contaminated with flu viruses (for e.g. door handles etc).
Are there any side effects of flu vaccine which I should be aware of?
- As with any other medical product or vaccine, there might be a remote chance of getting complications with the vaccine including rare life-threatening reactions. Discuss with your doctor if you have concerns regarding the same.
- The most common side effects include fever and redness, soreness or swelling at the injection site which subside with supportive care.
- A remote possibility which has been addressed too often is that the vaccines contain egg protein, often questioning their safety in individuals allergic to egg. Studies have now shown that influenza vaccines contain minimal egg protein so that all children with presumed or confirmed egg allergy may still safely receive the flu vaccine unless they have had an allergic reaction specifically to the flu vaccine before. It is recommended that people who have a history of severe egg allergy (those who have had any symptom other than hives after exposure to egg) should be vaccinated in a medical setting, supervised by a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic reactions.
My child has been vaccinated but he/she still has flu? How is it possible?
Yes. It’s possible to get sick with flu even if your child has been vaccinated (although you won’t know for sure unless you get a flu test) due to either of the following reasons:
- You may be exposed to a flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the period that it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated. (Antibodies that provide protection develop in the body about 2 weeks after vaccination.)
- A flu vaccine is made to protect against the three or four flu viruses that research suggests will be most common during that season. There are many other non-flu viruses that can result in influenza-like illness (ILI) that spread during flu season.
- Unfortunately, some people can become infected with a flu virus (a flu vaccine is designed to protect against) despite getting vaccinated. Protection provided by flu vaccination can vary widely (the efficacy of the vaccine is around 60%) , based in part on health and age factors of the person getting vaccinated. Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses may develop less immunity after vaccination.
Flu vaccination is not a perfect tool, but it is the best way to protect against flu infection.
What can I do if my child doesn’t look well?
Talk to and visit your doctor early if you are worried about your child’s illness.
Most people with flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If your child gets sick with flu symptoms, make sure to stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care. Also ensure your child gets plenty of rest and drinks enough fluids.
Even healthy children can get very sick from flu. If your child is experiencing the following emergency warning signs, you should immediately go to the nearest medical facility:
Are there any medicines available to treat flu?
Antiviral drugs are medicines (available only in government facilities by prescription) that can be used to treat flu illness. They can shorten your illness and make it milder, and they can prevent serious complications. But they work best when started during the first 2 days of illness. They are only recommended in people who are hospitalized or are very sick and who are at high risk of serious flu complications possibly due to underlying medical conditions.
Hope I was able to settle some of the queries about flu. In case of any more doubts, you can post your comments, and I would be glad to reply back.
Keep your kids safe/Get flu shot today !!
Image courtesy: CDC
Dr Garima| themoppetsclinic 🙂