Let’s Learn About … The Flu
Dr. Diane explains this respiratory illness
Last week, 255 kids tested positive for the flu (24 for Flu A, 231 for Flu B) at the medical center. So, I thought now would be a good time to look at some quick facts about the flu.
What The Flu Is
The flu is a respiratory illness.
The flu happens every year. It hits hard from December through March (and other months, but those primarily). There are deaths every year. Kids, healthy people, old people, babies and folks with chronic illness die every year. This year we're trending lower at Cook Children's than in previous seasons. I really, really, really hope it stays that way.
Overall, remember that the flu is usually a "mild" illness (I mean, you feel like you've been hit by a truck, but we call that "mild" in medicine, ha).
It hits fast and fevers can go high, which is worrisome. But with a lot of rest, fluids, pain and fever reducers, things usually get better after 3-5 days. The cough and congestion can last for 2 weeks.
Sometimes, rarely, it can get bad. Really bad. The flu can cause: Pneumonia. Sinusitis. Ear infections. Brain inflammation (encephalitis). Heart inflammation (myocarditis). Asthma attacks in asthmatics. Death. That escalated quickly.
You hear us talk a lot about Flu A and Flu B. They are just two different strains of influenza. They are the two types that circulate the globe each year. In the states, Flu A usually arrives first and in general is considered the more severe strain. But overall, there is little difference in how they present clinically and we can’t really tell them apart without a flu test.
What The Flu Isn’t
The flu is not a stomach bug. There is no "stomach flu." That's called gastroenteritis. Your child is throwing up, but doesn't have a runny nose or cough? It's not the flu.
How Do You Prevent The Flu?
Scared to vaccinate? Hear stories? Hate shots? Have an uncle who loves to talk up a good conspiracy theory? Know this: some years, you can still get the flu even if you get the flu vaccine. It depends on how well we predict what strains of the flu will be circulating the globe that year. And some years, it's not a good match.
BUT it's usually milder, if you do get it. It GREATLY reduces your chance for hospitalization and death. I get it every year for my kids and my family. If you ask any pediatrician or ICU doc what viruses put fear into their hearts, I'll bet you influenza tops that list. I always tell my patients, even if it’s a "bad match" year, isn't a 30 percent effective seatbelt better than no seatbelt at all?
We can't know how good of a match the vaccine was until the flu season is over in April. So ignore the dramatic news reports.
Tamiflu can help make it less severe sometimes, for some people.
WASH YOUR HANDS! The flu can live on some surfaces up to 24 hours in cold weather! Think about all those door handles you touch! The cash you get handed back from the cashier! The snot that flies from every person's sneeze can cover a 6 foot radius around them! Wash. Those. Hands!
How Long Are You Contagious?
You are contagious with the flu 1-2 days BEFORE you start showing symptoms. How sneaky is that?
You are contagious 5-7 days after you start to show symptoms. Your KIDS can be contagious up to 10 DAYS after they start to show symptoms.
You should keep your kids out of school for at LEAST 24 hours after their last fever. This means fever without the use of meds to keep it down. If it's financially feasible for you, I'd even try to keep your kids out at least 7 days after the first symptoms start.
When Should You Worry?
Call us (or your pediatrician) anytime if you're worried about the flu. We can walk you through what is normal and what isn't.
These are the reasons to worry:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or not interacting
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
Stay Healthy Friends,
To Learn more about this topic:
Get to know Diane Arnaout, M.D.
"Dr. Diane Arnaout is a pediatrician at the Cook Children's Forest Park practice. If you would like to see her at Forest Park, call 817-336-3800 or click here for an appointment. Dr. Diane has been a Cook Children’s physician since 2011.
She got her undergraduate degree at Texas A&M University, went to medical school at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio, and completed her pediatric residency in the Texas Medical Center at UT Health Science Center in Houston.
She is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. She has two small kids, whom she credits as being her toughest (and best) teachers. She loves being a pediatrician and loves to teach parents all about their childrens’ health daily, both in-person and online.”