It’s no secret that our flu season has been particularly nasty this year. We have had many more providers working extra shifts to handle the need for all those extra visits for our patients. We sincerely appreciate the patience and understanding that our parents and care givers have shown with the extra volume, especially when a particularly sick little one needed to be worked in or required extra time and caused extra waiting.
As I write this today, there have been 60 deaths of CHILDREN across the nation during this year's flu season. Just over 2 weeks ago, the count was half that, so it seems that the numbers are not yet declining. So are we all sitting ducks with no way to prevent what's coming? If you have had the flu this season already, can you relax knowing that you have already paid your dues and can't get it again? The answers are NO and NO!! There ARE some things we can do to keep from getting the flu, even a second time:
1) GET THE FLU VACCINE. Yes, it's not a perfect match (it rarely is), but it has been shown to provide at least 30% "overlap immunity" which will help lessen the severity and duration of illness. We have noticed this to be true in the patients we have seen ourselves. Those who got this year's vaccine have had a much easier time compared to kids who did not get it. Even more seriously, when the death count 2 weeks ago was at 30, 85% of those children had NOT had their flu vaccine this season. That extra "jump start" of immunity helps that much! Consider further planning on getting flu shots EVERY year from now on.
2) WASH THOSE HANDS AND FACES. Several times a day, and especially when kids get home from school, day care, or play places, wash hands up to the elbows, wash faces and change their shirts. Soap and water works wonders. If your child is already home with the flu, do the same. Change their shirts a couple of times a day because they are sneezing, coughing, and dripping onto their shirts. Cut down the ongoing germ load by throwing those shirts into the laundry and freshening them up with clean hands too. Bathe them at least once or twice a day while they are sick.
3) CLEAN SURFACES. Wipe surfaces, door knobs, cabinet handles, faucet knobs, toilet handles, etc. with Lysol or other disinfectant, or even cheaper is a mix of 1 teaspoonful of bleach to 1 gallon of water. Put it in a squirt bottle or wipe in on surfaces with paper towels. It may bleach your clothes, so be careful not to spill.
4) GOOD NUTRITION. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, especially those with Vitamin C, or if your little one is going through a picky phase, get her a chewable Vitamin C supplement. Around 200 mg daily total should be plenty for a small child, 500 mg for older kids or teens.
5) COVER THE COUGHS. Praise your kids when they cough or sneeze into the inside of their shirt or the bend of their elbow. We ask all patients who are sick to wear a mask at our office to also cut down on particles getting launched into the air.
6) STAY HOME IF ILL. If they aren't feeling well, look pale, or have fever, don't send the kids to school or that play date. What's really difficult is that we can be contagious just BEFORE we start having obvious symptoms, so if they aren't feeling well, believe them. And if they ARE sick, don't send them back to school until they are fever free for 24 hours.
7) FRESH AIR. Take advantage of the warm days when we get them, to open windows and get some fresh air into the homes and schools.
I hope that the above suggestions help you to keep your family healthier during this flu season and always. I will be posting another article soon which discusses the flu vaccine more specifically in hopes of debunking some of the false reasons that some people avoid getting their flu vaccines, so stay tuned. Until then, stay healthy!
Ramona Peck, MD, FAAP