By Sally Robinson and Keith Bly
Flu season 2013 is here with the first few cases reported. Protect your family against the flu with vaccination.
The 2013 flu vaccine protects against the most likely strains to be spread this winter.
The flu vaccine is recommended for all children 6 months and older. A nasal spray version of the vaccine is available for healthy older children and adults. You can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine. It can give you a sore shoulder, body aches and a slight fever, but not the flu. The more of us that are protected, the fewer people there are to give you the flu.
The flu is a miserable illness that for most people is like a common cold times 1,000. Most everyone we see, from babies up to teenagers and adults, have at least a fever of 102 to 103, and it’s not uncommon for their temperature to be 104 to 105. The height of the fever does not necessarily indicate the severity of the illness — the flu is still just the flu. However “just the flu” kills children — and adults — every year.
Check for these head-to-toe indicators of the flu: high fever, headache, congestion, sore throat, cough, chest pains, and body aches. Many people say they feel as if they have been hit by a truck. Treatment is simple: lots of love, lots of fluids, lots of rest, medicine for fever and aches and lots of time for recovery. Four to five days of fever, aches, and misery is not unusual. Up to 2 weeks of the nagging cold symptoms is expected.
Of course, any parent who is worried about their child should take them to the doctor — especially if that child has persistent hard-to-break fever, severe headache or stiff neck, lots of vomiting, difficulty breathing, seems to be getting dehydrated — or any condition that makes you think an illness has gone beyond the flu. The flu can lead to pneumonia and other serious complications, especially in very young children or those with chronic lung or other health problems.
Antibiotics do not help. The influenza germ is a virus. Antibiotics do not kill viruses and should not be given unless there is suspicion that a bacterial infection accompanies the flu. There are antiviral medicines available for severe cases or for patients with underlying health problems. These medicines can shorten the course of the flu by about a day or so, but do not “cure” it or make it disappear completely.
Remember that you get the flu from direct contact with someone else who has the flu. The more people you or the children come in contact with, the greater the chances that one of them will give you the flu. Getting your family vaccinated is the best protection of all.
Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital, and Keith Bly is an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UTMB Pediatric Urgent Care Clinics. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.