High fever, aches and pains, and that general feeling of yuckiness are common complaints these days at Mercy Clinic Pediatrics in Washington. It’s a clear sign that flu season may be a bit late this year, but it has arrived.
“We’ve had an increase of patients with the flu, and numbers are up across the country,” said Mercy Clinic pediatrician Douglas Durand, MD. “Flu symptoms can last 7 to 14 days. The most severe symptoms occur in the first few days and then they taper off. It’s not a fun illness for anyone to encounter, so in our office, we talk a lot about prevention – vaccination, keeping hands clean and avoiding exposure.”
Some flu symptoms are similar to the common cold with sneezing, coughing and congestion. What sets the flu apart from the cold is a high fever, around 102 degrees in children, achiness and overall malaise. Vomiting and diarrhea are not part of the seasonal flu. “Gastrointestinal symptoms are associated with stomach viruses sometimes called the stomach flu, but they are not the seasonal flu. Being different illnesses, flu vaccines won’t prevent stomach viruses,” said Dr. Durand.
He added, “With the seasonal flu, parents usually have to let the virus run its course, but if you have a child with known exposure to the flu or health issues such as asthma, chronic lung disease or a weakened immune system, it’s best to seek medical attention.”
If flu symptoms have been present for less than 48 hours, doctors may prescribe Tamiflu, a medication that has been shown to ease flu-like symptoms and reduce the spread of flu virus to others. Tamiflu may also be prescribed to siblings in an infected child’s household to prevent them from becoming infected with the flu virus.
While early immunization is the best way to stave off the flu, “It’s not too late to be vaccinated. The vaccine is most effective if you have not been exposed to the virus, so the sooner the better during flu season,” said Dr. Durand.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all Americans, starting at age 6 months, receive a flu vaccination each year. The annual vaccination suppresses ever-changing flu strains.
“Most people think of the flu as a mere nuisance, but in the United States, 12,000 to 40,000 people die from influenza each season, and it’s preventable,” said Dr. Durand. “By getting vaccinated each year, parents can protect themselves and their children from the flu. The vaccination boosts our immune system so if we encounter the virus, we are better enabled to fight it.”
Children 6 months to 8 years old require two doses of vaccine given one month apart, but only the first season they are vaccinated. They require only one dose per year thereafter. There are two methods children and adults can be immunized and which method depends on factors such as age, medical history and preference. The injectable flu vaccine, or flu shot, can be used in patients at least 6 months old. Patients with a history of severe allergy to chicken eggs, a severe reaction to a previous flu shot or a diagnosis of Guillain-Barre Syndrome within 6 weeks of receiving a flu vaccination should not take it.
The intranasal flu vaccine, or nasal spray, can be used in patients 2 to 49 years of age with the exception of children with asthma or a history of wheezing in the last 12 months, pregnant women or the same exceptions noted for the flu shot. Children who are eligible for the nasal spray generally prefer this method, as it does not involve the pain associated with a “shot.” Studies have shown that the nasal spray provides the same or better protection against the flu virus, possibly because the vaccine is administered into the sinuses, which is a direct pathway for the virus.
“These vaccinations are safe, but as with other medications, they do occasionally have side effects in some people,” said Dr. Durand. “The most common side effects associated with the flu shot are redness, soreness or swelling at the injection site. Severe allergic reactions are rare and in 1 or 2 cases per 1 million it may led to Guillain-Barre Syndrome. The most common side effects associated with the nasal spray are runny nose, cough or nasal congestion.”
The flu vaccine is available at most physicians’ offices, urgent care centers, health departments and health fairs. “The significant benefit of receiving vaccines at your pediatrician or primary care physician’s office is the continuity of care that comes with having one medical record.”
More information about influenza visit www.flu.gov, www.cdc.gov, or call 1-800-CDC-INFO. Mercy Clinic Pediatrics is located in Suite 300 in the Mercy Medical building, 851 E. Fifth Street in Washington. For more information, or to make an appointment, call 636-390-8555.
Mercy is the eighth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves more than 3 million people annually. Mercy includes 31 hospitals, more than 200 outpatient facilities, 38,000 co-workers and 1,500 integrated physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. For more about Mercy, visit www.mercy.net.