BY JIM FORTENBERRY, M.D.
Pediatrician-in-Chief, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
The first thing on many parents’ minds right now is how to protect their children from the flu. And, time after time, parents bring children with flu symptoms to the emergency room when it’s not an emergency.
While H1N1 flu is a new strain, at present it is acting just like a mild-to-moderate case of the flu with the same type of outcomes as seasonal influenza.
Parents should take away that H1N1 title and name, and think of this as the flu. Think of it this way: “If this was the regular flu, would I be going to the emergency room?”
The symptoms of H1N1 flu in people are similar to the symptoms of seasonal flu and include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people with H1N1 flu also have reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
The great majority of children don’t have a level of illness that needs medication or requires hospitalization, and can be managed with over-the-counter symptom treatments.
Routine cases of the flu are best handled by a child’s pediatrician. It may not even be necessary to make a health care visit. Online flu assessments can be helpful for parents in determining best next steps.
Some children can get sicker with H1N1 flu, just like they can with other types of flu. The key is treating your child as an individual.
There are times when a trip to the emergency room is in order, such as a child under three months of age with a fever over 102 degrees.
Children having difficulty breathing or a child who is dehydrated should visit the emergency room.
If your child is having trouble keeping liquids down – if they’re dry and not making tears, that can be another sign of trouble.
Finally, if a child is sluggish and not waking up well, that might indicate a need to visit the emergency room or a call to your pediatrician.
Families of children with certain conditions, such as chronic lung disease, diabetes or immune suppression, should contact their family physician for advice.
If you do have to visit the emergency room, leave healthy siblings at home so as not to expose them to germs in the waiting room and other areas in the hospital.
The best way to protect children is through vaccines. New vaccines are made each year for the types of flu that world experts think will be around that year.
Children need a new vaccine each year. Seasonal flu vaccines are given in September or October and are advised for all children from 6 months to 19 years of age. Flu shots are given with a needle and contain a dead virus.
This year, there will be an additional vaccine available for the H1N1 strain of flu as well. In late August, physician/researchers at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University began vaccinating children in a clinical trial testing an investigational H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine along with the seasonal flu vaccine.
Up to 650 children nationally participated in the study, with approximately 100 children, ages six months to 18 years, in the Atlanta trials.
The H1N1 vaccine is expected to be available mid-October, and you will hear more advice about taking that one as it gets closer to readiness.
In addition to receiving the appropriate vaccines, the best way to prevent spread is by staying away from others when sick, performing frequent hand hygiene and covering your coughs and sneezes.
Visit www.choa.org/flu for regularly updated information about the flu.