Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Fighting the Flu

On Monday we talked about gearing up for cold season and to follow-up with that post, we bring you, the flu! As most parents know, when colds start going around, so does the flu. Yikes! Flu season typically lasts from October to May, so now is the best time to get informed and ready.

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How do I recognize the flu?
Unfortunately the flu isn't always easy to recognize, especially in babies. They may be lethargic or have a loss of appetite. They can also have cold symptoms, too. But two indicators that your baby probably has the flu are:
  1. The sudden onset of fever, typically 101 degrees F or higher (see chart below for infants)
  2. Fatigue and chills followed by respiratory symptoms such as runny nose and a dry cough
Some other symptoms may include sore throat, swollen glands, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. (From: Baby Center)

How do I treat the flu?
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The simple answer is rest and fluids. To increase fluid intake try nursing or bottle-feeding. If baby doesn't seem interested in the bottle anymore try frozen popsicles (preferable 100% fruit) or soup.

Acetaminophen (e.i., Tylenol) can also be used to try symptoms in children, but ask your doctor first. Also, never give your child aspirin (unless directed by a doctor).

Another thing to keep in mind is that antibiotics do not treat the flu. Antibiotics treat bacterial infections and since the flu is a virus, antibiotics are not effective. The overuse of antibiotics is not recommended. However, if your child develops a secondary (bacterial) infection, the doctor may recommend antibiotics.

Baby Center recommends calling your doctor if: 

Your babies fever is equal to or higher than the listed temperature for their age:
Less than 3 months old
100.4 degrees F or higher
Between 3-6 months old
101 degrees F or higher
6 months or older
103 degrees F or higher

Or if your baby:
  • Has any fever that last longer than 3 days
  • Develops a cough that is not improving after a week
  • Develops signs of the flu and is HIV-positive or has a chronic illness (such as cancer; sickle-cell anemia; diabetes; or heart, lung, or kidney disease)
  • Seems to have an earache (pulling on ear and fussing)
  • Is wheezing or seems to be working harder than usual to breath
  • Becomes sick again soon after bouncing back from the flu (may be a sign of secondary infection)
  • Shows any signs of dehydration

How do I protect my baby from the flu?
The flu can be a sneaky one. A person becomes contagious before they even begin showing symptoms and for some, symptoms may be so mild they assume they have a common cold. The timeline for contagiousness is one day before symptoms and lasting about five days. The flu is spread through the air; schools, daycares, playgrounds, church, and family members are great catalysts for spreading the flu.

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The best answer to this question is to get the flu shot for yourself, your family, and your baby (if they are older than 6 months old). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all people over the age of 6 months receive a flu shot every year. If you baby is not 6 months old, it is especially important that you and anyone else in close, constant contact with your baby receive the vaccine to reduce their chances of coming into contact with the virus. Check out the CDC's website for list of those who should not receive the flu shot.

I’m not sure about giving my child an additional vaccine. And besides, I've heard that the vaccine can cause the flu, is this true?
It is possible to contract the flu virus even if you have received the flu shot, but the flu shot does not cause the flu.

The flu shot is developed to "protect against three influenza viruses that research indicated will be most common during the upcoming season" (CDC). So, if your child happens to come in contact with a different strand, they may still get the flu. Also, your child's health at the time they receive the flu shot can also affect how their body responds (a healthy child is much more likely to develop strong antibodies to protect against the viruses). Also, it takes 2 weeks for the antibodies to develop after receiving the shot, so in those two weeks your child may get sick if they are exposed to the flu. The CDC recommends vaccinating early to prevent this. 

Something else to keep in mind is that the flu shot is developed from an inactive virus, meaning the virus is dead and cannot cause the flu. It's job is to expose the body to the (dead) virus and have the body develop antibodies so that when the person does come in contact with the virus, the antibodies are already there to protect against invasion. 

Where can I get the flu shot?
The website Flu Near You not only provides a map of flu activity in your area, but it can also give you a listing of places where you can get the flu shot. Follow this link, put in your zip code, and then look on the right side of your screen for locations near you. The flu shot typically costs between $10-15.

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