What is flu? Flu is a viral infection of the respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs). Every year seasonal flu appears in our community and kills more children than all the vaccine preventable diseases combined. There are many strains of the flu virus.
What are the symptoms of flu? The main symptoms are fever (usually over 100.5 F) and cough, sore throat, runny nose. Other common symptoms are feeling tired, muscle aches and pains, headaches, drop in appetite and activity level, and some people have vomiting and diarrhea. The fever can last 3-5 days; the runny nose 1- 2 weeks and cough 2-3 weeks.
What is the difference between the flu and a cold? Both flu and a cold can cause runny nose and cough; however fever is always present with the flu, the onset of symptoms is more abrupt and symptoms are more severe. The fever with the flu can last 3-5 days. Usually a fever (<100.5 F) with a cold will go away in a day or two.
What is H1N1 (Swine Flu)? H1N1 is a strain of flu that presented in the spring of 2009. Currently, this strain causes the same symptoms as the regular "seasonal" flu strains.
How is flu spread and how can I protect myself? The flu virus (seasonal and H1N1) is spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing. Touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose may infect sometimes people. Covering your cough and sneezes, frequently washing your hands with soap and water, keeping your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth, and avoiding contact with sick people are the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus. A person is contagious from 1 day prior to 7 days after the fever starts. After exposure, a person will likely come down with the seasonal flu in 1-3 days and the H1N1 flu in 4-6 days.
Who is "high risk"? In general, people are mildly ill with the flu for 5-7 days and get better on their own; however for some people the flu virus can cause more severe illness. Complications can include pneumonia, respiratory distress, dehydration, Reye's syndrome, myositis (muscle pain) encephalitis (brain infection), myocarditis (heart infection), and in rare cases death. Infants and children less than 5 years of age, the elderly (65 years +), and pregnant women are at higher risk for complications from the seasonal flu. Other high risk patients include those with heart problems, asthma, diabetes, chronic lung disease, neurologic diseases, muscle diseases, sickle cell disease, kidney disease, cancer, immunosuppression, HIV and diseases requiring long term aspirin therapy such as Rheumatoid arthritis or Kawasaki disease. The H1N1strain appears to be affecting younger patients (under 24 years old). In addition pregnant women, infants and children less than 2 years of age are more susceptible to it. Other high-risk patients are the same as for seasonal flu.
Which children should get the flu vaccine? What about the H1N1 Vaccine? Seasonal Flu vaccine: All children aged 6 months - 18 years H1N1 Vaccine: When available, this vaccine is recommended for children and young adults (6 months - 24 years of age). Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age should be vaccinated as well. Pregnant women, as well as children and adults who are considered high risk should also receive the vaccine.
How is flu treated? Do Antibiotics work? Since the flu is a virus, antibiotics will not cure the flu or shorten the course of the illness, nor will they prevent the complications of the flu. Antibiotics are only used for patients who have secondary bacterial infections. Antiviral medications (i.e. Tamiflu, Relenza, Amantadine, Rimantadine) are indicated for treatment and prevention of flu in HIGH-RISK patients only (please see above). For best results, antivirals need to be started within 48 hours of the onset of fever. These medicines are not used for everyone because they can have serious side effects, and overuse of them will cause resistance. Some resistance to H1N1 has already been reported. Symptomatic treatment involves pushing fluids, and administering acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) for fever and aches/pains for patients 6 months and older. Cold medications are not recommended. Use of saline (salt water - a ½ tsp of salt in 8 oz purified water) nasal wash and suction may help. For children over age 5, throat lozenges may be used.
When can my child return to day care or school? Stay home from day care, school, or work for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone.
When should my child be seen? All HIGH-RISK patients who have symptoms of flu should be seen. Most children will tolerate the flu very well. However, your child should be seen if your child has the following symptoms:
Fever higher than 100.5 (if less than 3 months of age)
Acting ill with fever at any age; fever of 105 or higher when less than 3 years old
Fever that goes away over 24 hours and then returns