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 Ask the Doctor                                                       

Jon Udwadia, MDQ: What's 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

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