a parent to do about the flu?
A: The “flu” (also
known as Influenza) is a viral infection, which involves the
nose, throat, and respiratory tract. In the U.S., it is most
prevalent from November through March. Influenza continues to
account for a large number of hospitalizations and severe illness.
The infection rate is highest in children (especially those under
two years of age).
The early symptoms of Influenza include high fever, chills,
muscle aches, headache, and a marked decrease in energy level.
Later symptoms include sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, red
eyes, vomiting, or diarrhea. Infected individuals suffer from
these symptoms for approximately one week.
It is important to realize that Influenza is highly contagious
and the virus remains in the infected person’s respiratory
secretions for approximately 5- 10 days from the onset of symptoms.
The virus is most commonly transmitted from one person to another
by the inhalation of airborne secretions from an infected individual
via sneezing or coughing. It also can be spread by direct contact
with surfaces, which are contaminated with the virus such as
door handles, toys, or other objects. The infected individual
is contagious for approximately 24 hours before any symptoms
arise and remains so for about one week.
Four antiviral medications currently are approved for preventing
or treating Influenza: Amantadine, Rimantadine, Oseltamivir,
and Zanamivir. These medications serve to lessen the course of
the illness by one or two days if they are taken within 48 hours
from the onset of symptoms. However, the “flu” is
sometimes difficult to distinguish from other viral illnesses
in the early stages and treatment is often delayed and ineffective.
These medications are also helpful in protecting healthy family
members and other close contacts from the illness.
Please remember to follow proper hand washing and other hygiene
practices in order to prevent “passing” the infection
along to another unfortunate person. Influenza is a virus, so
antibiotics are only helpful if the child suffers from one of
the complications (ex. ear infection, sinus infection, pneumonia,
etc.). Currently, there is no “ magic bullet” available
in the battle versus Influenza. Prevention (via vaccination)
remains the most effective means of managing this illness.
The current Influenza vaccine, available each year in the late
fall, provides maximal protection for an individual approximately
two weeks after it is administered and its effect lasts 4-6 months.
It can be safely given with other necessary immunizations. Children
under the age of nine years may require two shots (given one
month apart). The current vaccine is roughly 80% effective in
preventing Influenza infection. Those with a severe allergy to
eggs or other components of the vaccine (or those with a history
of Gullain Barre Syndrome) may not qualify for vaccination with
Influenza and should consult with their physician. The current
vaccine is not approved for infants less than six months of age.
Vaccination with Influenza does not adversely affect breastfeeding
for either the infant or mother.
Contrary to popular belief; you cannot contract the “flu” from
receiving the shot (it does not contain the live virus). The
most common side effect is soreness at the site of injection
as well as mild fever and muscle aches for 1-2 days. Certain
children and adults have been categorized by the Center for Disease
Control (CDC) as being at high risk for developing severe complications
from Influenza if infected. It is strongly encouraged that they
receive yearly Influenza vaccination. Examples are children with
asthma, cystic fibrosis and other chronic pulmonary and cardiac
diseases, as well as children with HIV infection, sickle cell
anemia, and chronic renal or metabolic diseases such as diabetes.
Children who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy may be at
risk for developing Reye’s syndrome after Influenza infection.
Close contacts of high-risk individuals are also encouraged to
receive the vaccination. Studies have shown children shed higher
levels of the virus and for longer duration than adults did.
Thus, healthy children (especially those six months to two years
of age) must be targeted for Influenza vaccination in order to
prevent the spread of the disease.
An intranasal vaccine for Influenza (Flu Mist) is available
this year for those aged 5-49 years. Check with your physician
to see which vaccine is best for you.
ASK THE DOCTOR is provided by
Jon Udwadia, MD, a pediatrician in Athens. Dr. Jon received his
Bachelor of Arts degree from Canisius College in Buffalo, New
York, followed by a medical degree from State University at New
York at Buffalo. He completed his residency at Children’s
Hospital of Buffalo and went on to become board-certified in
pediatrics. After working several years in private practice,
Dr. Jon decided the superior medical environment at Athens Regional
and the charms of Athens were the perfect combination for him.
For appointment information, call Dr. Jon’s office at 706-546-5191.
This is a column sponsored by Athens Regional Medical Center.
Questions on any topic are welcome. Please send questions to
P.O. Box 465, Watkinsville, GA 30677 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org