Each year flu virus causes significant illness and death to people across the world. In the U.S., influenza causes over 226,000 hospitalizations, and 36,000 deaths every year. It is most deadly to the sickest and most vulnerable populations: the elderly, the very young, and the very ill.
The single best prevention for spreading flu is to get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends anyone 6 months or older be vaccinated against influenza every year.
What’s is CHKD doing now to help prevent flu?
Effective Wednesday, January 9, 2013, through the remainder of the flu season, it is recommended that patients and visitors wear masks upon entering the hospital where the possibility of exposure to flu is high. Other hospitals throughout the region are instituting similar policies.
Is it mandatory for patients and visitors?
- Prevalence of flu is higher than the same time last year in the region and throughout Virginia.
- Vaccines are not 100% effective and this effort will help protect patients, visitors and staff from exposure to flu, even before symptoms occur.
- We have an opportunity now to insulate our patients who have come to us in need of medical care and our first responsibility is to their safety. We also believe we can reduce exposure of staff and visitors in the region by promoting this practice now.
It is strongly recommended for all visitors and outpatients entering our hospital.
What about staff?
Ninety-eight percent of CHKD employees have received the flu vaccine. All other staff members are required to wear a mask when interacting with patients. You may see staff in high exposure areas like the emergency department opting to wear a mask for extra protection.
So does this replace earlier recommendations to get the flu vaccine?
It’s not too late the get the flu vaccine. Your body will produce antibodies to protect against flu within about two weeks from the time of vaccination. Even if you get the flu after being vaccinated, it will most likely be a milder case with significantly less risk of serious complications. But the flu vaccine is not 100% effective. Even though you’ve had the flu vaccine, wearing a mask is just another layer of protection you can offer yourself and your loved ones.
Wouldn’t I notice someone with flu and just avoid them?
Maybe not. Disease evidence suggests carriers of the virus may be in common settings, even before they realize they are not well. This effort will help protect patients, visitors, and staff from exposure to flu, even before symptoms occur.
What are Flu Symptoms?
Flu symptoms tend to start more suddenly and are more severe than symptoms of the common cold. The most common symptoms in children and adults include:
When should you seek care?
- Headache that starts suddenly and can be severe
- Muscle aches, often severe
- Fever, higher than 101 F and chills
- Coughing, may be dry
- Sore throat
- Sneezing, Runny nose
- Tiredness and weakness, which can last two or more weeks
- Vomiting, stomach pain and less commonly, diarrhea – symptoms more common in younger children
Flu symptoms usually resolve in 5 days. If symptoms last longer, contact your doctor.
Anyone at higher risk for flu complications should seek care at the earliest signs of flu. Medicines (antivirals) work best if given within 48 hours of symptoms. Also be aware of warning signs of potentially life threatening symptoms to seek medical care immediately.
What is the flu?
Many people use the word “flu” to describe illnesses with upset stomachs, but doctors use the term to describe an infection with the influenza virus. Influenza is a respiratory disease, which means it affects the nose, throat, and lungs. It is highly contagious (can easily be spread to others). Most people who get influenza get better with rest and supportive treatment in a week or two, but in rare cases the illness can lead to more serious problems, such as pneumonia.
There are two main types of flu (A and B). The flu virus may change a little from year to year resulting in new strains. Most flu viruses produce similar symptoms and we use similar precautions to prevent the different types of flu viruses from infecting children and adults and spreading.
How is the flu spread?
The flu is spread through very small droplets that can remain in the air. When a person who has the flu coughs or sneezes and sends the virus into the air, other people can inhale the virus and get sick. Flu can also be spread when a person touches a surface that has flu viruses on it (such as a door handle) and then touches his/her nose or mouth.
A person can spread the flu starting one day before he/she feels sick. Adults can continue to pass the virus for three to seven days after the symptoms start. Children can pass the virus longer than seven days. It is extremely important to keep children home from school or day care when they are sick for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicines. Avoid contact with other people in public places such as stores, church, movie theaters, etc to keep from spreading the illness. Avoid traveling when ill.
How can I keep my child healthy during flu season?
Getting the flu vaccination each year is the best way to prevent the flu. Good basic hygiene can also help with prevention. Keep your child away from anyone you know is sick. Avoid large crowds if possible during the months when the influenza virus is active in the community (late fall and winter).
In addition, teach your children to:
- Clean their hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner before eating and when they return home from school or other activities with a lot of people
- Avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick, if possible
If members of your family get sick teach them to:
- Cover their noses and mouths with tissues every time they cough or sneeze
- Sneeze or cough into their elbows, not into their hands if they don’t have a tissue
- Always clean their hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand cleaner after coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose.
- Not to share eating utensils, drinking glasses, towels, or other personal items
- Clean phones, computer keyboards and toys often with disinfectant wipes
When should I call my child’s doctor?
These are general guidelines about when you should call your child’s doctor. You know your child better than anyone and you know when he/she is not responding to an illness as expected. If you are concerned about your child’s health, you should always call you doctor for advice, especially if your child has the following symptoms:
- Your child has a high fever that does not respond to acetaminophen or ibuprofen. This could be a sign of a more serious infection. Do not give aspirin to children or teenagers who are sick with flu.
- Your child has had a fever for more than three to five days or if the fever goes away and then returns.
- Your child is listless, has no interest in playing or other activities
- Your child cannot be calmed down
- Your child is not drinking fluids or cannot keep fluids down or has frequent diarrhea
Should I take my child to the doctor’s office or the emergency room?
Most children with flu do not need to see a doctor and will recover with treatment for their symptoms. If you are concerned about your child’s flu symptoms, you should first call your child’s doctor. Be prepared to tell the nurse at the doctor’s office about your child’s symptoms:
- What is your child’s exact temperature?
- When did the symptoms start?
- Where does he/she hurt?
- Muscle aches?
- Headache or sore throat?
- Frequent, severe coughing or a cough that produces yellow or green mucus?
Be sure to tell the nurse if your child has a chronic medical condition, such as asthma or diabetes
The answers to these questions will help the nurse determine whether or not your child needs a doctor’s appointment, and if so, how soon. In most cases, the best treatment is rest at home as long as you watch for the symptoms mentioned above and call the doctor as needed.
Since doctor’s offices and emergency rooms may be a likely place to catch the flu during flu season it is best to keep healthy children at home when you need to bring your sick child for a visit.
The flu is rarely a medical emergency. Emergency room patients are seen according to how sick they are, not in the order of arrival. You may have to wait for hours to see a doctor in the emergency room if your child is not one of the sickest children there.
The following are emergency warning signs. Seek emergency medical attention as soon as possible for these signs:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing – Call 911
- Bluish or gray skin color – Call 911
- Vomiting that will not stop
- Your child won’t wake up or interact with you
- Extreme fussiness, your child does not want to be held
- Signs of dehydration: lack of tears, dry cracked lips, sunken look around the eyes, urinating less than usual
Are there any treatments for the flu?
Influenza is caused by a virus, so antibiotics don’t work to cure it. Antiviral drugs can be given to those who become severely ill with influenza. These antiviral drugs must be prescribed by your doctor. Usually these medications shorten the time a person feels ill by about one day if the treatment is started during the first two days of illness.
Are there any treatments to avoid?
Yes, never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms – particularly fever. Aspirin can cause a rare but serious illness called Reye syndrome. Avoid using medicines for upset stomachs and/or diarrhea without first checking with your child’s doctor. Many of these products contain salicylates, which is similar to aspirin.
This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.