Have you taken your son or daughter to a pediatrician lately?
The Center for Disease Control has tallied that since sweeping the nation on Oct. 1, the flu epidemic has claimed 30 lives and every state except for Hawaii is now reporting widespread flu activity.
But before a stuffy nose in your household causes a panic, ABC News talked with reputable pediatricians across the country to get the facts on the flu:
- The flu shot really works.
The flu shot will be the first recommendation that doctors make to make sure your child has their first line of defense against the disease.
“If you’re talking about protection and issues about how you try to keep your loved ones as healthy as possible, the number one is still getting the flu vaccine,” said Dr. Randy Bergen, a pediatrician and the clinical lead of Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s Flu Vaccine Program. “Some protection is better than no protection.”
And if they haven’t received one yet, it’s never too late, doctors add.
“The flu shot cannot make a child sick,” said Dr. Don Schaffer, managing partner of Pediatrics of Greater Houston who also spoke with ABC. “There’s no reason to not give it and give your child every advantage they can.”
2. You know your child better than anyone else.
Your gut instinct about your kid’s health will usually be your best friend, said Dr. Joshua Schaffzin, pediatric infectious diseases physician and director of infection, prevention and control at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
“Classic flu feels like you’ve been hit by a truck because it’s abrupt onset, high fever, cough, sore throat and all over body aches,” he said. “It’s very striking for parents because their kid is running around and all of a sudden they don’t want to get out of bed.”
But it’s not a time to panic if your child comes home with a fever: do what you normally do and try to manage it at home first, or if you have a feeling it’s more than just the sniffles, it’s perfectly fine to call your pediatrician.
3. Your child’s illness may not be the flu.
ABC found that doctors look at different types of diseases that also appear with flu season, like the respiratory virus called RSV, and even just the common cold.
“In pediatrics there tends to be a little bit of a difference in that very young children are more frequently affected by another respiratory virus called RSV,” Bergen said. “We’re seeing the flu peak right now –- cough, cold, high fevers, body aches and pains and children tend to have more stomach-related issues with influenza — but we haven’t seen quite the peak of RSV season.”
4. It’s important to take care of yourself.
Parents have to be proactive about taking care of their health too so that they can take care of their children, which means things like being adamant about their own hand washing, coughing or sneezing into the crook of your arm, and staying away from people who are sick should also be imposed so they don’t get sick themselves.
Good hygiene — using soap and water, cleaning toys, using hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes on grocery carts and gym machines — was also recommended for parents by Schaffzin.
If you do become sick, doctors recommend that the best approach is to quarantine yourself at home and away from other family members as much as possible.
“The earlier you are in the illness, the more contagious you are in general,” said Bergen. “The critical thing is the fever. Most doctors will say if you’ve been without a fever for 24 hours you’re safe to return [to work or school].”
5. Your pediatrician is ready to make a plan.
Schaffzin recommends making a plan with your child’s pediatrician now, and again before the start of flu season next year, for what to do if your child get sick. This is especially critical too if you are a parent of children younger than two years old, or to children with congenital heart issues or lung issues.
“Treatment is most effective when started early,” he said. “So it’s good to have a conversation beforehand, ‘If the child becomes ill, what should our plan be?'”
6. The emergency room is just for emergencies.
Schaffer doesn’t recommend the emergency room yet if it’s only a fever.”I don’t like anyone to go to an emergency room unless it’s an emergency,” Schaffer said. “If you’re having trouble breathing or persistent vomiting, you need to go the emergency room. If you just have a fever, you can come in the next morning.”
There are certain behaviors to look out for to determine if you need to make that trip:
“If your kid is not getting better and getting dehydrated, not peeing much, feeling listless, then it’s reasonable to go to the ER,” Schaffer said. “If your child is having difficulty breathing or their lips are turning blue, it’s an indication of not getting enough oxygen so that would be a trip.”
He added, “Also check their hands and feet and see how pink they are. If the hands and feet feel cold, then you would consider going to the emergency room because it could be a sign the heart is not getting oxygen efficiently everywhere.”
7. Stories of flu deaths are tragic, but not common.
For January alone, news reports have spotlighted the death of a 10-year-old Connecticut boy who died after being treated for flu symptoms while he was at a hockey tournament, and a third-grade Alabama girl who died after her parents took her to the hospital with flu symptoms and fever.
While these stories are “terrifying,” Schaffzin said it is not a reason for parents to be overcome with concern.
“What they are is they’re extremely uncommon but that doesn’t make them any less tragic,” he said. “Every year, a number of children die of the flu and that’s why it’s a potentially very serious infection and something to have a conversation with your doctor about.”