Photo Credit: http://phil.cdc.gov/phil/home.asp Content Provider, CDC/Douglas E. Jordan. Illustrator, Dan Higgins.
Influenza, more commonly known as the Flu, is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract. It can cause mild to severe illness and in some cases lead to death. There are many complications that can occur from Influenza, but most otherwise healthy children and adults can handle the Flu without harm. We discuss possible complications a little further down.
To quote the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases,
“Influenza is a contagious disease that can cuase mild to severe symptoms and life-threatening complications, including death, even in the healthiest children and adults. Influenza viruses usually spread from one person to the next through coughing or sneezing, but they can also spread when someone touches a surface with influenza virus on it and then touches their mouth, eyes, or nose. A person can pass influenza on to others even before their own symptoms start and for a week or more after symptoms begin.”
How is it spread?
The virus is spread through infected droplets most often through an infected person’s cough, sneeze, contaminated surfaces or even talking in close proximity.
The Influenza virus can survive on hard surfaces for 24 hours, a tissue for only around 15 minutes and surprisingly on the hands for only a short period of time, after about 5 minutes the virus drops to low levels on the hands, though you must take into consideration that within those 5 minutes you are most likely putting it right back on and starting the cycle over so good handwashing and antibacterial wipes are very useful to hinder the spread. Also, the flu virus can survive as droplets in the air for several hours.
A person infected with the virus is contagious from the day before they start showing or feeling symptoms up until their symptoms have ended.
Flu season in the U.S. runs from October to May, with most cases occurring in late December through early March. Influenza is often confused with the common cold, as their symptoms are quite similar. However, with the Flu, symptoms are usually more severe and typically begin one or two days after exposure to the virus.
Encourage Frequent and Thorough Handwashing
Teach children to sing the ABC song twice for proper time.
• sudden onset
• muscle aches
• loss of appetite
• non-productive cough
• sore throat
• runny nose
• nausea or vomiting
• ear pain
Common Cold vs. Influenza (Flu)
Usually, with the common cold, symptoms are more gradual such as, beginning with a sore throat on day 1, moving to a runny nose day 2 and 3, then mucus getting thicker causing congestion to set in, and high fevers are less common. Not to say the common cold will not be accompanied by a fever, especially in the very young and very old, fevers are known to couple with the cold virus but tend to be less severe.
Major differences in the symptoms of Influenza are high fevers that bring on chills, the symptoms are often brought on more quickly, and intense weakness/fatigue and muscle aches.
Most Flu symptoms improve in 2-5 days but is not uncommon to feel weak and run down for a week or more following. The common cold lasts on average 7-10 days.
Your child’s Pediatrician can test for the Flu with a quick swab and results are within minutes. There are anti-viral medications available for the Flu, though, they only work to shorten the duration by a day or two.
For normally healthy children, the virus will not require medical treatment and will resolve on its own. Your biggest concern will be keeping them hydrated and temperatures at a safe level.
Hydration & Dehydration:
The most common concern during a bout with the Flu is dehydration.
Kids stop eating, and everything they manage to drink seems to come up moments later. Not to mention, the electrolyte solutions (i.e. Pedialyte) and Replacement drinks (i.e. Pediasure) available taste so bad they won’t even attempt drinking it.
When all else fails, and your child will not eat or can’t seem to keep anything down, don’t force it. Instead, push fluids. As long as they are drinking plenty of the proper fluids, at minimum 16-24 ounces, they will be okay not eating.
Symptoms of Dehydration you can check for at home:
Urine: Are they passing urine? An early sign of dehydration is dark urine, and a later sign would be decreased urine output.
Capillary Refill: This is when you press down on the top of your finger nail and it turns white then returns to pink. This should be a very quick transition from white to pink, if it seems slow, the child may be dehydrated.
Pinch Test (skin turgor): Pinch a good chunk of skin on the back of your child’s hand, if the skin is slow to bounce back, this is a sign of dehydration.
Dryness: Are their lips dry? Dry mouth? Reduced tears?
Sunken Fontanelle: For babies, the Fontanelle or “soft spot” on the top of their heads will be sunken in if they are dehydrated. Check for this.
If you suspect dehydration, you should seek medical attention for your child immediately.
Complications from the Flu:
Common complications are sinus and ear infections.
Another common complication of the Flu is Pneumonia. If you notice shortness of breath you should contact your child’s pediatrician immediately. Another sign Pneumonia has taken root following the Flu is if a fever breaks (fever free for a day or more) and then returns. Pneumonia is a serious and life-threatening infection of the lungs that needs to be evaluated and treated by a medical professional.
Other serious complications of Influenza can include inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), muscles (myositis), brain (encephalitis), tissues (rhabdomyolysis) and multi-organ failure such as; respiratory and kidney failure. It is also possible for the infection to trigger an very serious inflammatory response in the body which can lead to sepsis, our bodies life-threatening response to infection.
It is important to note that for the average, otherwise healthy child, the Flu will typically run its course and resolve on its own with no complications. Always consult your child’s pediatrician if you suspect complications.
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