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Flu season: How to prevent it and take care of your kid

Both influenza A and influenza B strains have been implicated in these deaths, and children younger than 5 years old are especially at risk.

COLORADO, USA — Flu season can bring some angst for parents looking to make sure their children stay strong and healthy. 

There have been 78 total pediatric flu-related deaths in the U.S. for the 2019-2020 season — three of which were in Colorado, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. There were 144 pediatric deaths during the 2018-2019 flu season.

Both influenza A and influenza B strains have been implicated in these deaths, and children younger than 5 years old are especially at risk.  

9Health Expert Dr. Payal Kohli answers common questions parents need to know to protect and treat their kids.

What should parents do to prevent the flu?

Get your child vaccinated!  It still isn’t too late for this season as the flu virus is still circulating. 

Getting your child vaccinated doesn’t just reduce the likelihood of flu and the chance that s/he will miss school, but also reduces the likelihood of serious complications or hospitalization and results in a milder illness if your child does end up getting the flu.  

There are two types of flu vaccines approved for children – the injection (kids 6 months or older) or the intranasal vaccine (kids 2 years or older). Some children will require two doses of the vaccine to get adequate protection against the flu, so talk to your doctor about whether your child will need a second dose.  

You should also practice hand hygiene (wash your child’s hands frequently), isolate your child from having contact with infected individuals at school or daycare, and try to wipe and sanitize surfaces that your child touches often or public surfaces.

Which kids are considered especially high risk?

Some children are considered especially high risk: 

  • Children younger than 6 months (who can’t be vaccinated)
  • Children 6 months to 5 years
  • American Indian or Alaskan Native Children
  • Children with chronic health problems, such as asthma
  • Children with obesity

How do you know if it's the flu or just a cold?

Flu is usually abrupt in onset, associated with high fevers, chills, severe fatigue, muscle aches and more severe symptoms than a cold. Your child won’t want to play if s/he has the flu. 

Flu can have symptoms in children that are similar to those in adults: fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches.  

The difference, however, is that some children with the flu may not have a fever.

Flu can have some serious complications in young children (especially those younger than 5 years), including pneumonia, dehydration, encephalopathy (dysfunction of the brain) and ear infections.

What can parents do to care for their children who get the flu?

Keep your child out of school or daycare if s/he has the flu. 

Antivirals are available to treat children who have a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of the flu. These medications interfere with the replication of the flu virus in the body and should generally be started within two days of becoming sick for optimal benefit. However, these drugs are not like “antibiotics” and are not absolutely necessary to treat the flu but can shorten the duration of symptoms or make the symptoms milder.  

Some studies have also shown that antivirals make it less likely that your child may develop ear infections as a complication of the flu. 

But these medications can have side effects, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, so discuss with your child’s doctor whether it is necessary to take an antiviral. 

Lots of fluid and rest are also very important. 

Warning signs that your child is not getting better or may need hospitalization include breathing difficulty or fast breathing, ribs pulling in (or retracting) with each breath, chest pain, lethargy, a fever over 104 degrees and symptoms that improve and then return.

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