Parents are understandably on high alert. Why? Recent news stories have brought home just how serious this influenza (flu) season has become. Among the fatalities are young children, who along with the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are the most vulnerable to the flu.
Along with these tragic stories, figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, show that this flu season has reached epidemic levels across the country. Any symptoms of sickness can have them wondering if it’s a common cold their child is dealing with or the flu.
How to tell the difference between a cold and the flu
Here are the top five ways to tell the difference between a cold and the flu:
- Kids are very sick and symptoms come on suddenly. Children do not want to play. They want to stay in bed to sleep.
- Fevers from 101-105 degrees Fahrenheit that last four to five days.
- Shaking chills, severe body aches and weakness.
- Severe sore throat, cough, congestion and headache.
- Dehydration caused by poor fluid intake.
- Kids are not that sick. They are crabby, but still play and act like themselves.
- Kids can run fevers for a few days, but generally not as long or as consistently high.
- Runny nose and cough are the main complaints.
- No muscle aches or body aches.
- Generally no problems with dehydration, although they may eat a little less.
Timing is vital in treating influenza, as there are antiviral medicines that can be given if started within the first 48 hours of symptoms. These medications reduce the length of time a child is sick by two days and can lessen the severity of symptoms.
Treatment with antiviral medication is important for children at risk for complications from influenza (such as those children under 2 years of age, and those who have chronic medical illness or are immune compromised). Additionally, antiviral medications are generally not given to otherwise healthy children. There are some side effects to these medications, and you should talk to your doctor before starting it. Antibiotics DO NOT help.
Caring for children with the flu
- Fever-reducing medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen
- Lots of fluids with electrolytes, such as Pedialyte or Gatorade
You should see your doctor if your child is younger than 2 years and has flu symptoms, or if a child of any age is taking a turn for the worse. Call your doctor if you are not sure whether to bring him in. Visit the emergency room if your child has difficulty breathing, severe dehydration, lethargy, irritability, or behavior changes.
Best ways to prevent the flu
The best ways to prevent the flu are making sure you and your children are washing hands frequently, AND getting the flu vaccine every year! It’s not too late! Even though this season’s vaccine hasn’t been as effective as in years past, it will still help lessen the severity of the symptoms and prevent serious outcomes of influenza.
Learn more about Barbara Calkins, MD.