Seasonal influenza (also known as “the flu”) is a common viral infection that affects thousands of Canadians each year. The flu is quite different from the common cold. It is usually much more severe, comes on rapidly (in 3 or 4 hours), and has symptoms such as headache, fever, muscle aches, extreme fatigue, and nausea that are not usually part of a cold. The flu can be very serious and lead to pneumonia and hospitalization. The most important way you can protect yourself and your family is to get the flu shot. (see our September newsletter for lots of detail!). You can also stop the spread of the virus by washing your hands frequently, coughing and sneezing into your sleeve, and staying home when you feel sick.
If your child becomes sick despite all your precautions, here are some tips to help you out:
Fever is a common symptom of the flu. To make your child more comfortable you can remove excess clothing and bedding, give them lots to drink, and prevent them from running around too much. It is not necessary to treat a fever with medicine as the immune system actually works better to fight the virus at a higher temperature, though lowering the fever can make your child feel better. To do this, Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®) are safe choices for children. It is important to follow the dosing information on the package and it is always better to dose the medication based on weight, rather than by age. If you are unsure what dose is correct, always ask your pharmacist.
Diarrhea and vomiting can be another symptom of the flu, especially in children. It is really important to prevent dehydration by offering lots to drink in addition to regular feedings. Water, juice, or flat ginger ale are options for less severe cases. You can also buy rehydration products such as Pedialyte® or Hydralyte™. Small, frequent meals can help with nausea and, if your child is over the age of 6, you can try dimenhydrinate (Gravol®). The main thing though, especially with younger children, is to watch for signs of dehydration. These signs include thirst, dry mouth, crying with little or no tears, fever without sweating, less pee (fewer than 4 wet diapers in 24 hours), sunken eyes, and skin that does not quickly return to normal after being gently pinched up (try the skin on the back of your child’s hand or on their belly). If your child has these symptoms or if the diarrhea and/or vomiting does not go away and is severe, take your child to see the doctor.
If your child is less than 6 months old and has a fever, you should take them to a doctor. For older children, a doctor visit is also necessary if the fever lasts longer than 3 days, if it is higher than 40.5°C and does not respond to medication, or if it is associated with a stiff neck or seizures. Generally speaking, if symptoms are very severe, particularly if the child is less than 2 years old, they should see their doctor.
If you are pregnant and believe you have the flu, you should see your doctor within the first 48 hours so that you can receive antiviral treatment if determined necessary by your doctor. Otherwise, you can treat your symptoms with over-the-counter medication - Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) is safe in pregnancy – and keep drinking lots of fluids to maintain hydration. Rest and fluids is highly recommended!
Be sure you and your family get the flu shot, if appropriate, to stay healthy this flu season!