Arm Your Children – and Yourself – Against the Flu

Flu season has struck early, including in Illinois, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported high influenza-like illness (ILI) activity in recent days, and this year’s peak is not yet in sight.

Flu activity likely will continue for some time. Your best defense against the flu is to receive your annual flu vaccination, which thus far appears to be well matched to the dominant stains of influenza being seen this year, the CDC reports.

It’s not too late to receive the flu vaccination to protect yourself and your loved ones, especially if you have young children who have not yet been protected.

“The flu in children is a horrible thing to see, so if we can protect kids in any way possible, we highly stress that,” said Ashish John, MD, a pediatrician with Koke Mill Medical Associates, a Memorial Physician Services clinic.

Dr. John, who spoke with WTAX’s Bob Murray in December about children and the flu, said because the flu is largely respiratory driven and children play with one another in rather close quarters, it can “spread like wildfire.”

Symptoms usually strike quickly, he said.

“The flu tends to be a bit more dramatic in kids, with pretty high fevers and they just generally look miserable,” he said. “They don’t want to get up and move around; they have severe muscle aches and throat soreness. They just look really, really terrible. … It really kind of knocks the wind out of them.”

Dr. John urges parents to not ignore symptoms and treat them as best they can. Some children who develop high fevers can develop febrile seizures, and children also tend to get dehydrated easily. Push fluids and rest, manage fevers with Tylenol or Ibuprofen (never give an ill child aspirin) and just generally stay aware of the child’s condition. Call a pediatrician as soon as you suspect the flu; in some cases, an antiviral medication can be administered.

Flu symptoms in children often can lead to other ailments such as pneumonia, ear infections or sinus infections.

“There’s a whole range of complications that can show up once you get the flu,” Dr. John said.

Children ages 6 months and older can receive the flu vaccination; to protect infants who cannot yet be vaccinated, caretakers of children younger than 6 months should be sure to get vaccinated. The flu vaccine is available for children as a shot or nasal mist. Chat with your pediatrician about which option is best for your child.