Flu Facts – By Audrey Paul M.D. Ph.D., pediatric ER doctor and author of kidserdoc.com.
This year is a particularly bad year for influenza. You can’t even turn on the news without hearing about flu-related deaths or complications from Tamiflu – the medication used to treat flu symptoms. According the CDC, this year’s flu epidemic is on its way to matching the swine flu pandemic of 2009. Influenza like illness activity is now at 7.1% not too far from 7.7% in 2009.
Mortality from the flu in kids is also high. So far, there have been 53 reported pediatric deaths from the flu nationwide.
One of the biggest challenges is distinguishing the flu from a regular cold. The CDC has put together a helpful chart distinguishing the two.
The flu can also be associated with hives, muscle cramping and even salivary gland inflammation (similar to what we see in mumps). Other symptoms associated with the flu include diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Secondary bacterial infections from the flu include ear infections and pneumonia. The influenza virus can make you more susceptible to serious bacterial infections.
How do we diagnose the flu?
Rapid flu testing is what is most commonly used in doctor’s offices and outpatient clinics. The Rapid Influenza Diagnostic Test involves a nasal or throat swab and takes about 15 minutes to run. It has a high rate of false negatives which means that you may have the flu even with a negative swab. Other types of flu testing include viral cultures and immunofluorescent testing which take longer. Basically, if you are running a high fever, feel like you were hit by a bus and your symptoms came on suddenly, you are likely to have the flu.
How do you treat the flu?
There is a lot of controversy over the use of Tamiflu in flu treatment. Tamiflu or oseltamivir works by blocking replication of the flu virus. It is only really effective if taken within the first 48 hours of symptoms. According to several studies, Tamiflu only reduces the duration of symptoms by less than 24 hours. There are several side effects associated with Tamiflu including nausea, diarrhea and belly pain (which you may already have from the flu!). More concerning side effects include hallucinations, seizures and depression. The CDC currently recommends that Tamiflu be prescribed in the following cases:
When to worry with the flu (when should you see immediate medical attention)?
- If your child is not acting right – very sleepy and not easy to wake up or inconsolable
- If your child is showing signs of increased work of breathing – breathing quickly, pale or blue lips, blue nail beds,
- Signs of dehydration including no urine for 5-6 hours, sunken eyes, dry lips
- Generally, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. If something seems off with your child, seek medical attention.
How do you prevent the flu?
- Get vaccinated!
- Lots of hand washing! Teach your kids to cough into their elbow (kind of the cough dab)
- Keep your kids home from school if they are sick. The flu is contagious 7-10 days from onset of symptoms and up to 2 weeks in kids.
- Eat well and get lots of sleep to keep immune function up