Although COVID-19 is at the front of everyone’s minds when it comes to health and wellness these days, the sad truth is, our old pal influenza is still very much alive and ready to rear its ugly head in the coming months. As parents, it can be pretty freaky when our kids get sick, especially when we don’t know exactly what bug they’ve caught or how to help. We got the scoop from Paul G. Auwaerter, MD, Kathryn Birken-Friedman, MD, and John J. Russell, MD, FAAFP on how to recognize the symptoms of influenza, treating it effectively, and preventing it in the first place.
My kid is sick! Is it COVID? Is it a cold? Is it the flu? Help!
These days, it can feel damn near impossible to know whether our kids’ runny nose is a symptom of a cold, the flu, or the dreaded COVID-19. One thing that both COVID and the flu have in common is that if your little one is exhibiting any of the symptoms, they should seek medical care. Early intervention with influenza is vital since there medications that can reduce complications with the flu and there are even medicines that help protect your family just in case you or your family were exposed to it; don’t wait until things get serious to visit a doctor.
When it’s a cold
You can feel fairly confident that you’re dealing with a run-of-the-mill cold if you’re seeing head congestion and a cough without shortness of breath. Fevers are uncommon when it comes to the common cold.
When it’s Influenza (or/and possibly COVID-19)
Unfortunately, sussing out whether your kiddo has influenza or COVID-19 can be a heck of a lot harder than ruling out a common cold. This is because the jerks have many symptoms in common (including no symptoms at all – yay!). This is why it’s so important to get on the horn with your doc ASAP when you see any of the following symptoms of both influenza and COVID-19, which include:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle pain or body aches
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea. This is more common in children than adults.
Emergency warning signs of influenza in children
If your child is exhibiting any of the following symptoms, it’s urgent that you seek medical care as soon as possible:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish lips or face
- Ribs pulling in with each breath
- Chest pain
- Severe muscle pain (child refuses to walk)
- Dehydration (no urine for 8 hours, dry mouth, no tears when crying)
- Not alert or interacting when awake
- Fever above 104 °F
- In children less than 12 weeks, any fever
- Fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen
- Worsening of chronic medical conditions
What are the risks of influenza in children?
To put it bluntly, the flu is a dangerous asshole, particularly for children under 5. Thousands of children are hospitalized for influenza-related illnesses every year, and sadly, some of them don’t survive. There’s a fairly extensive list of complications that can come along with getting the flu, and 41% of kids end up with at least one of them. The most common side effects of influenza include pneumonia, seizures, secondary bacterial infections like sinusitis or otitis media, and exacerbation of existing respiratory issues, such as asthma.
How do I treat my kid’s influenza?
As we mentioned before, seeking treatment as soon as you recognize symptoms of influenza in yourself or your child is super important. Antiviral treatments can be given, but they are the most effective when taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Leaving the virus to sort itself out can be dangerous not just for the person sick with the flu, but for other high-risk household members (like pregnant women, kids under two, people over 65 years old, and people with conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, to name a few) as well.
How do I protect my family from getting the flu?
Sticking out your arm and getting a flu shot in the fall has been shown to be the number one preventative measure that parents can take to keep everyone in the family (aged 6 months and older) protected from the flu. In addition to vaccinating your family, masks have been shown to help prevent the transmission of disease; if nothing else, they stop you from touching your eyes, nose and face, which most people do about 23 times per hour (eep!) Washing your hands with soap, all over, and for at least 30 seconds. Finally, if someone in your household has been diagnosed with influenza, that person should wear a mask to prevent the spread of germs. Siblings sharing a room should be separated during the course of the illness.
The flu can be a scary beast, but knowing how to recognize it and when to seek care, especially for at-risk members of your household, can give you a little peace of mind as cold and flu season inches closer. Remember: if someone in your family is exhibiting symptoms of being sick, whether it’s a simple cold, or something more serious like COVID-19 or the flu, please stay home until they’re healthy again. We can do our part to limit the spread of all nasty bugs and viruses; 2020 has been hard enough as it is!
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