Parents' top flu questions about children answered

Child Health | 15 days ago

Parents' Top Flu Questions About Children Answered

Whether you’re an expecting parent, a new parent or a seasoned veteran, we all have questions about kids and the flu. Rhonda Patt, MD, medical director, Charlotte Pediatric Clinic, has your answers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the 2017-18 flu season has been the worst in about a decade. Being a parent during this time can be unnerving. What information is accurate? Who can I trust? Am I even asking the right questions? Thankfully, Rhonda Patt, MD, medical director, Charlotte Pediatric Clinic, has some answers that can help parents weather this tough flu season.

Question 1: At what age can my child get a flu shot?
Answer 1: The flu vaccine is offered and recommended for all children beginning at 6 months of age.

Q2: I’m pregnant, can I get a flu shot?
A2: Many people may not realize that influenza is more dangerous for pregnant women than women who are not pregnant. Pregnant women are at an increased risk of more severe disease and flu-related death because of changes in their bodies that occur during pregnancy. Influenza infection can also be harmful to unborn babies. For all of these reasons, pregnant women should receive a flu vaccine.

Multiple studies have shown that flu vaccines are safe for expectant mothers and their babies. Another important factor: Babies cannot be vaccinated against influenza until 6 months of age. Therefore, vaccinating mothers adds an extra layer of protection against flu for babies who are less than 6 months of age. Pregnant women should not receive the nasal flu vaccine, however, because it is a live virus vaccine.

Q3: What are some of the early symptoms I might be able to spot in my child if they have the flu versus a cold or other type of virus?
A3: Many flu symptoms are indistinguishable from other viruses – runny nose, cough, sore throat and fever. Some hallmark symptoms of the flu include muscle aches, fatigue and very high fevers between 102-104 degrees. Some cases of the flu are mild and may mimic a cold, and there are other viruses that can mimic the flu. So it is impossible to know – with 100 percent certainty – whether someone has the flu based on symptoms alone.

Q4: I suspect my child may have the flu. Do I need a confirmed diagnosis?
A4: Each year, the flu virus receives a lot of publicity and press; however, there are many respiratory viruses that can be just as dangerous as the flu: adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, RSV to name a few. Knowing whether your child is sick from the flu versus some other virus may not impact treatment. It is important to distinguish the flu from bacterial diseases such as strep throat and pneumonia because a child requires antibiotics for bacterial infections. Generally speaking, treatment for viral illnesses are all the same: rest, fluids, and fever-reducers. There are certain high-risk patients who should receive anti-viral medication against influenza. For these patients, diagnostic testing for the flu (when available) or clinical judgement of the physician can be used to determine if a child has the flu.

Q5: When do I need to see a medical professional?
A5: Although most cases of the flu resolve without any medical intervention, people with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease or immuno-deficiencies should see medical care right away.

It is also important to seek medical attention if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing;
  • Gray or bluish skin discoloration;
  • Lethargy or Irritability;
  • Signs of dehydration, including decreased urine output and inadequate fluid intake;
  • Recurrent vomiting;
  • Fever that persists beyond the third day of illness;
  • Fever and cough that improved initially but returns or worsens several days into the illness (this could be a sign of developing pneumonia)

Q6: Why are children more susceptible to the flu and its symptoms?
A6: Infants and young children are more susceptible to flu for a variety of reasons. For one, their immune systems are still developing. Each time we are sick with flu or other viral illnesses, our bodies are building antibodies and an immune system “memory bank” to combat future illnesses. Children have had less years to build up these type of memory immune cells and often get sicker than adults who are exposed to the same virus. Young children also tend to put their hands and toys in their mouths - leading to more sick exposures.

Q7: How effective are treatments like Tamiflu and do they come with any negative side effects or risks?
A7: Tamiflu is an anti-viral medication that is sometimes prescribed to treat the flu. Tamiflu is not a miracle drug by any stretch of the imagination. Studies indicate that it may shorten the course of the flu by about 1 day. Meanwhile, Tamiflu has side effects which can include nausea, vomiting, headache and dizziness. As with any medication, it is important to weigh the benefits versus the risks before deciding whether to proceed. For this reason, Tamiflu use is typically reserved for patients with severe flu or who have risk factors for complications including:

  • Age under the age of 5 years (especially age 2 and younger) or over 65;
  • Asthma, diabetes, morbid obesity or other chronic health problems including cardiac or neurologic disorders;
  • Need for daily aspirin therapy for any reason;
  • Pregnancy or less than 2 weeks post-partum;
  • Residing in a nursing home or long-term care facility.

Q8: I heard the flu vaccine wasn’t as effective as they had hoped this year: What else can I do to protect myself and my child?
A8: To prevent the spread of germs, remember to wash your hands with soap and water – especially before meals and at bedtime. It is also important to keep your hands off of your face since germs spread via mucosal surfaces of the eyes, nose and mouth.

Q9: Someone in my home has the flu – what’s the best way to prevent it from spreading to the rest of the family?
A9: When discussing prevention, it is always important to remember that the best way to protect your family and yourself from the flu is to receive an annual flu vaccine. If the flu hits your household, remember to:

  • Wash your hands;
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, mouth and nose;
  • Avoid close contact between sick and non-sick family members;
  • Sneeze or cough into a clean tissue and disinfect surfaces in the house.

Q10: If I have already experienced the flu this year, am I safe or can I catch it again?
A10: Because there are several strains of the flu circulating each season, it is possible to have the flu more than once. For example, someone may have Influenza A in December and then Influenza B in February. Because of this, it is important to have a flu vaccine even if you have already had the flu earlier in the season.

For flu-like symptoms, we recommend patients under the age of 18 be seen at their doctor’s office or at Urgent Care.

Learn more about general influenza questions.