Flu season is upon us, and it is scary. It's impossible to turn on the news without hearing statistics on how many people have been hospitalized with the flu. Social media is teeming with stories about perfectly healthy people — kids who never get sick and athletes who are in superb shape — getting sick and dying within days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning us that this could be one of the first flu seasons in more than a decade, and it's at epidemic levels in almost every state in the country.
Doctors offices are filled, and hospital beds are hard to get. But of course, we want our kids to try to avoid the germs at all. Or at the very worst, we want to know the signs to watch out for and what to do to protect ourselves and keep our family healthy.
Parents need to know at what point a fever is dangerous and how to watch out for dehydration. Their child may have a condition like asthma that requires even more attention, and they don't know the places to avoid where the germs are at their worst. Of course, any mom who has a question needs to talk to the doctor, but we hope that this guide can help provide as much information as possible to help get parents through the flu season.
Here are 15 warnings about the flu epidemic to keep your kids safe.
15 We're Losing Kids
Kids get sick a lot, and for most parents, it's just a part of life that they will have to deal with. That's especially true of any kind of illness going around, school or daycare. Most years, the flu is just another miserable week of sickness, but this year is different. Kids don't just get sick with the flu — kids are dying of it.
According to the latest statistics released by the CDC on February 5th, 53 kids have died from the flu thus far this year. That's only a few weeks into the flu season, and kids who were perfectly healthy before they caught the virus are ending up in the hospital and some are never making it home. We're starting off with these statistics because parents need to know that the flu this year isn't something to shrug off. It's important to see the doctor right away and to watch your children closely for signs of distress.
14 Don't Count On The Flu Vaccine
Vaccines are still a highly debated issue these days, and the next statistic that we are going to talk about may make parents even less trusting of the idea. While we believe that it is worth getting a flu shot to try to protect your children, the truth is that the vaccine isn't always effective, and this year it may be even less effective than usual.
Researchers have a hard job each year to try to come up with a vaccine formula when they don't know which strain of the flu will become most problematic that year. They do the work months in advance, and they could simply guess wrong. Last year, people who had the flu vaccine were 48 percent less likely than people who didn't have the vaccine to develop the flu, and it was particularly effective in keeping children from getting sick. But this year, the flu is defying all expectations. Officials have said it may only be 10 percent effective at stopping people from getting sick. However, it is believed to alleviate the symptoms. It takes two weeks for the vaccine to be as effective as it would in the body, and doctors are recommending that people get their shot as soon as they can.
13 When To Go To The Doctor
For many people, the flu can be a relatively mild illness. The kids will get a cough and a runny nose, a headache and muscle aches, maybe a mild fever. While adults don't usually get nausea and diarrhea, kids sometimes do. Most years, those symptoms aren't enough to prompt a visit to the doctor, especially since the flu is a virus, and antibiotics will not help anyone get better.
Usually, only people who are the most vulnerable are at risk of getting seriously ill from the flu — children younger than 5 or the elderly, people who have weakened immune systems or health conditions that put them at risk. But this year, the virus has been lethal, leaving many perfectly healthy people sickened and weakened. There have been news reports of athletes in their 20s and 30s who have unexpectedly died, and children of all ages are at risk.
Because of the extreme conditions, doctors are encouraging people to see their healthcare providers right away and to get tested. Doctors are prescribing Tamiflu to lessen symptoms and hoping that the earlier treatment can make a difference.
12 Wear A Mask
Even more important is seeing the doctor as soon as your child begins to show symptoms of the flu, doctors are encouraging people to do all that they can to avoid getting sick in the first place. There are a lot of practices that can help in avoiding the disease, but the typical advice of covering your mouth when you sneeze isn't really cutting it this year. Doctors are going beyond that advice and encouraging people to wear masks when they are around people who are sick.
One of the most dangerous places to be these days is at the doctor's office or at the hospital. There, the germs are everywhere, and even if a person thinks that they have the flu, they should wear a mask to protect everyone else. It can seem a little extreme but don't be surprised if you see people wearing masks out in the general public like they did in Asia during the bird flu outbreak a decade ago. It's a small price to pay for staying healthy.
11 Keep The Baby Home
We've mentioned already that babies are vulnerable to the flu. That's true in a regular flu year when their little immune systems are still new and trying to keep up with the germs all around them. This year, though, it's especially dangerous, and because of that, doctors are recommending that babies are kept at home as much as possible.
For this warning, we aren't just talking about places where you know that germs will be high like hospitals — in fact, most hospitals won't let children visit a hospital unless they are the patient. But germs are prevalent anywhere that people gather. Keep the baby away from the mall; skip church on Sunday; reconsider those tickets to a basketball game. Keep the baby at home this flu season. Since babies younger than 6 months can't get a flu shot and those who have the vaccine are still vulnerable, it's best to just avoid the germs altogether.
10 Pregnant Women At Risk
The baby isn't just in danger after he is born. It's very possible that the flu could be lethal to a little one even before the birth. Pregnant women are definitely part of the population most vulnerable to the disease. Their own immune system is weakened in their condition, and their heart and lungs are already under a strain carrying the baby. That means that a pregnant woman is very likely to get extremely ill with influenza, and she may be at risk for hospitalization at the least. She should definitely plan ahead and get a flu shot since she won't be able to take medication if she gets sick.
While the mother is battling the disease, the baby may be in for an even worse right. There could be short-term risks with profound impacts like miscarriage or stillbirth. In addition, a fever could cause problems for the baby's development. Depending on the stage of development, that could mean a debilitating neural tube defect or another life-long condition. Pregnant women should do all that they can to protect themselves so that they are also protecting their baby.
9 Dangers For Kids With Special Needs
The thing about the flu is that it can put a strain on just about every system of the body. That means that kids who have special needs may find it even harder to struggle with the illness. They could need hospitalization from the very beginning, and it's definitely key that their healthcare providers are up to date as soon as possible.
The most common birth defect in the world is for there to be a problem with the heart. Some kids even need heart surgery or are in line for a transplant from the moment they are born while others show very little signs of an issue until their heart is taxed by an illness like the flu. There are millions of others who have lung issues such as asthma, and they too could face a major danger, since the flu can cause breathing problems even in kids without that condition. The kidneys, the liver, the muscles, everything can suffer from the flu, so if a child has a health condition, it's even more important that they see the doctor right away to make sure that they can weather the illness as much as possible.
8 School Precautions
We've talked about keeping the baby home as much as possible, but for many families, daycare is a necessary evil during flu season. Once kids start kindergarten, they have to go to school when they are well. But unfortunately, that is the one place that is covered in germs, and the kids around them aren't always the best at wiping their runny noses and covering their coughs. Unfortunately, schools can get positively toxic during flu season.
Luckily, school officials are well aware of the dangers of flu and very astute about how to keep on top of the environment as much as possible. When a child goes home sick, many systems follow up and try to alert other parents when the flu has been spotted in their classrooms. They warn parents to keep their kids home at the first sign of fever, and they have janitors and teachers wiping down desks with bleach every few days. Some school systems even close for a few days when their absentee rates are highest and they bring in special cleaning crews. Schools aren't safe by any means, but thanks to the dedication of teachers and administrators, it's not the worst place to be during the flu epidemic.
7 Two Types Of Flu
The heading here says that there are two types of flu, but we just mean that there are two types going around this year. There are actually four main types of flu — A, B, C and D — and each of those has several subtypes. Those many variations are the reason why it can be difficult to create a flu vaccine that will work. But back to our main point, usually only one type surfaces as a major strain each year, but this flu season there are two.
When doctors test you for influenza, they will test for the two different strains that are filling hospitals. One type primarily sticks to the upper respiratory type of symptoms, while the second one can also include more gastrointestinal issues. Both were included in the flu vaccine, although that hasn't made much of an impact. Also for both, the treatment is mostly to try to alleviate symptoms, and the body has to do much of the work to get a person better.
6 Another Dangerous Sickness Going Around
It is worth noting that the flu is not the only thing that is making people sick this year winter. Of course, there are always other bacteria and viruses that are making their way through the population at any given time, but this one has also landed people in the hospital so it's definitely something people should be aware of. It's colloquially called the "stomach flu," but it is very different from influenza.
The illness is a form of gastroenteritis, which is usually just a gross stomach ailment that makes you miserable for a day or two. But this year's strain is especially virulent. Gastroenteritis involves vomiting, which usually turns to diarrhea within a half day or so, and if it lasts much longer, it's definitely time to call the doctor's office and make sure that everything will be OK. This illness is also really easy to pass from one person to the other, so it's another reason to keep the antibacterial hand wash close this winter.
5 Dehydration Is Dangerous
One of the biggest dangers of any type of illness, including the flu, is that the patient will get dehydrated. That's a big deal with vomiting and diarrhea, but it also happens with fever and any time a child doesn't want to eat, which happens with just about every illness, especially if it involves a sore throat, cough, fever or lethargy, all of which can come into play with the flu.
The body needs food and water, and while it can be OK for a person to lose their appetite for a couple of days when they are sick, they really need to continue to take in fluids as much as they can. And we aren't just talking about water. Pedialyte is a great option because it has electrolytes, which can help keep the body more healthy. Some kids can't even keep that down though, and that is what leads to many of the hospitalizations. Signs of dehydration include sunken eyes (and the soft spot for babies), no tears when crying, decreased urination and lethargy. If your child shows these signs, they may need an IV to replenish their fluids, so talk to a doctor right away.
4 Stopping The Spread
Every year, the biggest worry about the flu is about how far it will spread and when it will reach families. Many times, once it hits a school, it starts to hit kids in the same classroom over and over again. It goes from classmate to family member to work colleague to their family member to their children and their school and so on and so forth. At some point, it can feel like a freight train that is going full speed from stop to stop. But people need to work very hard to try to stop the spread.
In recent weeks, doctors have discovered that this flu virus is very virulent. Usually, if an infected person sneezes in a room, the droplets of germs can pass to surfaces that another person would eventually touch and then touch their own eyes, nose or mouth. But now, doctors are saying that this flu can pass to the next person just by breathing near an infected person. Hand washing is still incredibly important, but so is wearing a mask. Another major key is staying home when you are sick — that is a difficult choice for some families who do not have the ability to take sick leave from work, but it can make a major difference in stopping the spread.
3 Fever Warning
Another big danger during the flu is fever, although we want to let parents know that all fevers are not the same. In fact, for most kids (not newborns), a low-grade fever can be a good sign that the immune system is doing its job and fighting the infection in the body. But of course, a fever can also cause a person to feel worse, and if it gets out of control, it can be really dangerous. So we wanted to give you some information on what to watch out for.
First of all, if a newborn who is three months or younger has a fever above 100.4 degrees, it's important to call the doctor right away and even consider going to the emergency room. But after the first few months of life, fevers are less dangerous. For a baby between 3 months and 3 years old, call the doctor after it reaches 102.2 degrees. For kids older than that, 104 degrees definitely means its time to go to the hospital. Parents can try to use fever-reducing medicines and cold compresses to try to keep the temperature down too. High fevers can lead to seizures and if they go on for too long, a child could suffer brain damage, so definitely keep a thermometer close and keep monitoring the temperature while your kids have the flu.
2 Caregivers Taking Care
One of the hardest things for a mom to do is to take care of her child when he or she is sick. It's physically exhausting and emotionally draining to care for a child who is suffering, and unfortunately, the flu usually takes a week or two to actually pass. The coughing is constant, the body aches are terrible and the fever can go up and down at a moment's notice. With all of the news about kids losing their lives, moms whose kids are sick are incredibly anxious, and we can't blame them a bit.
But we want to stress the need for caregivers to take care of themselves too. They need to do all that they can to personally avoid getting sick, which means scrubbing down the house as much as possible and keeping up their own strength through food and water. Moms are very likely to get sick while caring for their kids, and they can be the one that passes the germs through the house, and that doesn't do anyone any good. Be careful to consider your own health, so you can be there for your children when they need you.
1 Flu Season Isn't Over
As scary as the flu season has been so far, we need parents to be aware that this is just the beginning. While flu season usually starts in the fall, the clock doesn't really start until people get sick. That means things really only began in January. We are only a few weeks into the epidemic, which means we have a few months where people will be passing germs around.
Doctors say the flu season hasn't peaked yet, which means that hospitals that are already stretched thin are likely going to be at capacity for weeks. It's possible that the number of flu deaths could multiply, although we hope that the warnings that are going out will help stop the spread and help people to safeguard their families a little better. Flu season may last into April this year, so we have a long way to go to keep our babies safe.
Sources: CDC, Mayo Clinic, Kids Health