Its been a rough winter season for our patients (and staff!) here in Boise and at Ada Pediatrics. Every day our schedule has been filled with children presenting with fever, cough, nasal congestion, sore throat, ear pain and body aches and decreased appetite and fluid intake.
The number one offender these past few months has been influenza. Influenza is a virus infection that usually causes the symptoms listed above and can be thought of as a “HORRIBLE COLD.” What’s worse, the influenza patient’s immune system is weakened and it is not unusual for bacterial ear infections or pneumonias to arise in these patients just when we hope that their condition should be improving.
Why has this flu season been so rough? Normally the flu vaccine protects those that are wise enough to be immunized before the flu season starts. The flu is not a single germ. There are multiple different forms of the germ in the environment. Each spring, super smart immunologists make an educated guess as to what flu germs will be infecting people in the USA by observing the flu germs that are prevalent on the other side of our world. The flu vaccine is currently made up of 4 different strains of the flu germ. Usually they do a very good job and the flu vaccine helps very much to reduce the likelihood of contracting the disease and passing it on to others. Most years, the biggest barrier to the effectiveness of the vaccine is low percentage of people who utilize its protection by actually getting the shot!
This year though, there is a flu germ circulating that is not covered well by the vaccine so it is much more likely than most years for an immunized person to still get the flu disease. I can personally attest to this as it has happened to me this year! Getting the vaccine is still a good idea because there are other flu strains out there, but it is true that the flu shot has limited usefulness to the germ that is getting so many kids sick right now.
So what to do with your child if they come down with the symptoms I listed at the beginning? First, if the symptoms started less than 48 hours ago, it may be a good idea to get an appointment to be seen. There is an anti-flu medicine call Tamiflu that may be able to shorten the duration of the symptoms and reduce the transmission of the disease to others. If the symptoms have been present longer, and even if a patient is taking Tamiflu, the therapies of SUPPORTIVE CARE can help your child feel a little better and fight off the illness. Supportive care consists of rest, extra fluids, ibuprofen (motrin, advil), Tylenol, Vics rub, honey (for children over 1 year of age), nasal saline drops or spray, and extra hugs and cuddling as appropriate.
Symptoms are at their worst for about 3-6 days, but the increased mucus and a lingering cough can persist for a few weeks! Be on the look out for increased work of breathing that persists despite maximizing the supportive care measures as that could indicate the development of a secondary bacterial pneumonia, which is the most common serious complication of the flu.
Hand washing and covering a cough are good ways to try to limit the spread of any communicable disease so keep the alcohol gel nearby. We are here to help so call if you need us.
Dr. Ryan Lindsay DO