This year, the flu means business.
Doctors and health authorities are warning families that the flu season, which typically runs from October to May, has become an aggressive and widespread battleground against illness this year. And flu – often confused with the common cold – can be dangerous for some people, sometimes deadly.
By the end of December, more than 2,200 people in the U.S. had been hospitalized with flu and 18 children had died from flu complications, according to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Flu was widespread in 41 states, including New York, up from 31 states the week before, the CDC reported.
Most parents and teachers are familiar with typical cold symptoms in children – tiredness, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache and muscle aches – and influenza (the flu) usually reveals itself with similar but more intense symptoms and may also cause dizziness, loss of appetite, weakness, ear pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting.
Symptoms usually appear about two days after a child is exposed to the virus. Fever and chills are common but don’t have to be present, so don’t discount the flu because your child doesn’t have a fever.
With rest, most people will not need medical care and will recover in less than two weeks.
However, parents of children younger than five, but especially children under two years old, should talk to their doctor early, and pay close attention for complications developing if your child gets sick. Pregnant women and adults over 65 are also at risk to develop complications from a bout of the flu.
The flu can be dangerous for “high risk” children and adults because of their age or existing health conditions. For these people, the flu can lead to complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections, and can result in a hospital stay, or in the most severe cases, death.
Chronic health problems can also be made worse by the flu. People with asthma, chronic lung disease or weakened immune systems may suffer worsening conditions because of the flu. Studies reveal that people who are morbidly obese – a Body Mass Index, or BMI, of 40 or greater – are at greater risk of flu complications.
Adults and children with serious medical conditions such as blood, kidney and liver disorders, heart disease, epilepsy, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy are also more likely to get flu-related complications if they get sick from influenza.
What should a parent do?
- The CDC recommends that everyone get a flu shot as the best way to specifically prevent the flu. “Anyone who has not already been vaccinated should do so now,” says Dr. Joe Bresee, chief of the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch in CDC’s Influenza Division. “And it’s important to remember that people who have severe influenza illness, or who are at high risk of serious flu-related complications, should get treated with influenza antiviral medications if they get flu symptoms regardless of whether or not they got vaccinated.”
- Parents should know what symptoms to look for, and keep sick children home. While most kids will recover quickly with plenty of rest, it’s important to separate them from other kids to help stop the spread of the disease.
- Parents should teach their children how to properly and frequently wash their hands, one of the best ways to prevent the spread of any germs.
- Teach children to cover sneezes and coughs with a tissue, and to throw the tissue in the trash afterward.
Parent Today has created a useful fact sheet that will inform parents and teachers about influenza and what steps to take to protect children from the flu. Download “Flu Facts” by clicking here.