Fee, Fi, Fo, FLU
The giant is among us: the seasonal influenza epidemic. This viral infection, known as Influenza or “the flu,” for short, is hitting us hard and early this year. Given all the questions and concerns, Center City Pediatrics would like to equip our families with important and accurate information on flu prevention and treatment for children.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Flu symptoms include fever, chills, sore throat, cough, headache, body aches, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea (more likely in young children than adults). Common complications of flu infection include ear infections and pneumonia. Children under 2 years of age (especially premature infants), and those with chronic lung problems (e.g. asthma), heart conditions, obesity, diabetes, certain blood disorders, immune system problems, or conditions involving the brain or muscles are at highest risk of severe flu. Even so, about half of U.S. children hospitalized with flu each year have no risk factors.
How important is the flu shot, really?
The flu vaccine has been proven in children over 6 months of age to reduce the risk of flu infection, missed school & parent work days, flu-related hospitalizations, and death. It is the most important way to protect against the flu. It also has a strong safety record. The most common side effects are temporary swelling/soreness at the vaccine site and mild fever within 24 hours of the shot. These side effects are due to desired immune responses to the shot. The flu vaccine biologically CANNOT cause cold symptoms or the flu. It takes about 2 weeks for protection to develop after the shot. Children under 9 years of age receiving their flu vaccine for the first time need a booster dose in the same season for full benefit.
For more information on the flu vaccine, vaccine safety, and vaccine ingredients, visit The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Vaccine Education Center.
Is it worth it to get the flu shot this year? I hear it might not work.
This year’s flu vaccine is so far a good match for all 4 strains currently going around. However, preliminary results this season suggest that it’s only 30% effective for one of the flu strains, H3N2. Unfortunately, H3N2 is causing much of the flu cases right now. Despite this lower effectiveness, in a rough season with tens of thousands of hospitalizations and doctor/ER visits, a reduction of flu by 30% can make a big difference. If your child is in a high-risk group (see “What are the symptoms of the flu”), it’s even more crucial to get the flu vaccine. In addition, the vaccine effectiveness of the other strains is expected to be higher; an important point, given that Influenza B tends to become a common cause of flu later in the flu season. Cases of breakthrough flu in those who were vaccinated also tend to be milder than for those who weren’t vaccinated. While the flu vaccine provides protection for 4 strains of flu at once, getting sick with one strain doesn’t necessarily protect you from the other strains, and persons may have multiple different flu infections in one season (we’ve seen it!)
At Center City Pediatrics we have administered the flu vaccine to about 4,000 children so far. Given that flu season typically extends into March or April and we haven’t reached the peak yet, it’s definitely not too late to get your child the flu shot!
Is there a treatment for the flu?
For most uncomplicated cases the symptoms of flu can be managed with rest, drinking lots of fluids, Tylenol or ibuprofen for relief of discomfort from fever/body aches, and tincture of time. For safe home remedies for nasal congestion, cough, and sore throat, see our blog on best cold remedies for kids.
For children with more severe symptoms (e.g. persistent high fever, difficulty breathing) or who are at higher risk of flu complications, an antiviral medication called Tamiflu (oseltamivir) may be recommended. While not a wonder drug, in children it may speed up the time to recovery by about 1 day, especially if started within the first 48 hours of illness. As with all drugs, there may be side effects. If your child is high-risk or lives with someone considered high-risk, please call our office as soon as you suspect your child has the flu. If indicated, a flu test may be done in the office.
Regardless of the age or health of your child, we urge you to check out our guide, “When to Wait, When to Worry, When to Panic.” Remember, this giant has many friends. Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum…Listen for the stomping and keep out of the way.
Center City Pediatrics Staff