This is a bad flu season. It started before the holidays and is just now peaking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) we have quite a few weeks left. My waiting room is inundated with patients coughing and feeling miserable. Unfortunately, we aren’t just experiencing flu. We are also having increased cases of RSV and whooping cough. Add these in with a variety of other respiratory and gastrointestinal viruses making the rounds and we can understand the markedly increased wait times in doctors’ offices, emergency rooms and clinics.
What can you do as a parent to keep your family healthy? Glad you asked:
- GET VACCINATED! If you or your children have not had a flu vaccine, it’s not too late. If you have a baby in your home that is too young to vaccinate (under 6 months) cocoon them! Make sure everyone who has contact with your infant is vaccinated and avoid taking them to public places. If you are pregnant get the flu vaccine! You will pass some immunity to your unborn baby. If your physician’s office has run out of flu vaccine check with your local pharmacies and health departments as they usually have larger supplies.
- Avoid taking your healthy children around sick people. If one of your children is ill and you need to go to the emergency room or doctor’s office, leave your healthy children at home with an adult who can care for them. If you have no one to watch your other children take some simple precautions. Have them bring their own toys or books to play with while you wait, use hand sanitizer to clean their hands, have them wear a mask if one is available. If you have a checkup scheduled sit in the designated well area of your doctor’s office.
- If one of your children or a member of your family becomes ill, try to isolate them from healthy family members by having them stay in one room of the house. Remember wash your hands frequently especially after contact with a sick family member.
- Do not send your sick children to school or daycare. If your child is feeling ill, don’t expose other children. Make sure you ask your doctor when your sick child can go back to school or daycare. Usually schools require children to be fever-free for 24 hours. That is FEVER-FREE. OFF fever reducers like acetomenophin (tylenol)and Ibuprofen(Motrin,Advil)
- WASH your hands. Make sure everyone in your household is using basic hand-washing precautions. You should wash your hands with soap and water for as long as it takes you to sing the happy birthday song twice. If soap and water is not available use an alcohol based hand sanitizer. Make sure children are supervised when using these products
- COVER your mouth when you cough. If you can use a tissue this is ideal. If a tissue isn’t available, cough into the bend of your arm. If you cough into your hand, wash your hand immediately.
- Avoid touching your eyes nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, especially objects that are used communally like door knobs, light switches, remote controls, phones and keyboards.
Remember people are contagious with the flu 1 day prior to symptoms and can spread the flu up to 5-7 days after symptoms develop. If your child has had to miss school during the week they should avoid birthday parties and sports activities during the upcoming weekend as they may still be contagious.
If you or your child develops flu-like symptoms (fever, coughing, chills, body aches) go see your doctor. There are prescription antiviral medications that can help with the flu but they must be given early to be effective. Control their fever with fever reducers like acetomenophin (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (Advil,Motrin). Check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure you are giving an appropriate dose. Also, it is important that people with the flu drink plenty of fluids as dehydration is a common complication.
Remember if your child is having difficulty breathing, is not drinking enough fluids (not making as much urine as usual), is excessively irritable, or not waking up or interacting you should seek immediate medical assistance.
Sandra Peak, M.D., joined Cook Childrens Physician Network in Lewisville in 2004. Dr. Peak enjoys gardening, yoga, and boating and in her spare time can be found at the lake with her husband Jay, stepson Sage and the world’s most amazing Lab, Sugar Mae.