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Surviving the Cold and Flu Season

Posted 10/5/2017 by UHBlog

No one can live in a bubble to avoid cold and flu season. Talk to us about tips to stay healthy this fall and winter.

Surviving the Cold and Flu Season

Nobody likes getting the flu or a cold. The fever, chills and aches can leave you incapacitated for days or even weeks. For children, though, the flu isn’t just inconvenient, it can also be dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year the flu causes more hospitalizations and deaths among American children than any other vaccine-preventable disease.

But that doesn’t mean you need to walk around with a hazmat suit, says pediatrician Douglas Fleck, MD.

According to Dr. Fleck, there are some easy, inexpensive things you can do to help lessen your chances of your child getting sick this winter. To keep your house from becoming an infirmary, Dr. Fleck offers these four cold and flu season tips:

  1. Get the flu shot. The single best way to protect children from the flu is to get them vaccinated, Dr. Fleck says.
    “It’s a very inexpensive shot, and it’s been shown over and over that it can help prevent hospitalization and reduce the risk of serious side effects,” Dr. Fleck says.
    The CDC recommends that everyone older than 6 months of age get the vaccine. (This year, there are no flu nasal sprays available.)
    Don't forget to get yourself vaccinated as well, and make sure your child's caregivers are, too.
    “Getting immunized helps keep everyone in the house protected,” he says.
    This is especially true for moms who are breastfeeding. Though infants younger than 6 months are too young to get the vaccine, a lot of times those antibodies are spread through the breast milk,” Dr. Fleck says. “Getting the vaccines can help boost the immune response in infants.”
  2. Wash your hands frequently. The CDC estimates 80 percent of all infections are transmitted by hand. That’s why washing your hands with soap and water is so important.
    “It’s really the best way to kill germs and reduce the spread of illness,” Dr. Fleck says.
    For handwashing to be most effective, children should scrub their hands for at least 20 seconds and dry them with a clean towel or air dryer.
  3. Tell your kids to cough and sneeze into their elbows. In times past, doctors advised people to sneeze into their hands to stop germs from spreading, Dr. Fleck says. But as kids use their hands for everything – from typing on a computer to rubbing their eyes – researchers found this advice was actually counterproductive.
    “I advise my patients to cough into their elbow,” he says. “It helps decrease your chance of transmission.”
  4. Disinfect the items you and your children touch the most. Flu and cold viruses can survive on hard surfaces for 24 hours. That’s why it’s so important to disinfect the items you and your child use the most, including things like bathroom faucets, table tops, remote controls and phones, Dr. Fleck says.

If, despite all these precautions, your child still gets sick this winter, a little bit of tender love and care goes a long way toward healing. Dr. Fleck recommends that you make sure that your sick child gets a lot of rest and fluids to prevent dehydration. For pain relief, he recommends ibuprofen or acetaminophen in doses recommended by your pediatrician.

“In some situations, anti-viral medications are prescribed to help lessen the symptoms of the flu,” Dr. Fleck says, “But those typically work best if they're used within the first day or two of showing signs of the flu.”

Even if your child claims he’s feeling better, it’s important to monitor their symptoms. Children under age 5 are most at risk for flu-related complications. And sometimes parents are surprised that what looks like a cold is actually the flu.

“The most common myth is that flu is (accompanied by) vomiting and diarrhea,” Dr. Fleck says. “But with the flu, you can also experience chills, shakes, headaches, sore throat and stuffy noses – the same as you would with a cold.”

The flu, Dr. Fleck says, just lasts longer than a cold and normally involves a fever. It's also more dangerous. He recommends immediately calling your child's pediatrician if:

  • Your child already suffers from a chronic condition, like asthma, diabetes or heart or lung disease. The flu can worsen these conditions.
  • The fever lasts more than five days
  • Your child’s temperature is higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit
  • You notice signs of respiratory distress
  • Your child is dehydrated

Douglas Fleck, MD is a pediatrician at University Hospitals Rainbow Ashtabula Pediatrics. You can request an appointment with Dr. Fleck or any other doctor online.

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