Dr. Sue’s flu view: The entire country continues to experience high rates of influenza and what are also known as ILI ( influenza like illnesses). The CDC reported that the Influenza A- H3N2 virus is still the most prevalent strain of flu and also causes more serious complications, especially in those over 50 years of age. People who have been vaccinated are definitely not getting as sick as those who chose not to get the vaccine.
In Texas we are also starting to see more cases of influenza B strains of flu, and in most cases the people who get sick with flu B are not as sick as those with flu A. Interestingly, in my practice, the children with flu A or flu B both have very similar symptoms with fever, cough, congestion, sore throat and headaches. I have seen some children who do not even have fever over 100 degrees have positive flu tests….which is surprising. Overall, they do not seem any sicker this year than during previous flu seasons and once again we have not had any patients who required hospitalization.
Several schools in our area were closed due to high rates of flu, but in some instances the closures were also necessitated not only due to students being sick, but so many teachers also with flu like symptoms that they could not get enough substitutes to keep classes in session. While the students are out the schools are doing “deep and thorough” cleaning in hopes of decreasing exposure to the virus. Unfortunately, the minute the children return to school the virus is back in that classroom. Bottom line, don’t send your child to school if they are sick, or even if you “think they are getting sick”. Some parents have told me that they went ahead and sent their child to school, even as they were already complaining of not feeling well - during this time of year err on the side of caution and keep them home for a day to see what happens. You are already contagious as you start to feel “yucky”, even before the fever has started. School nurses are on “high alert” and are sending most students home who complain of any upper respiratory symptoms and not feeling well. Not all of those children need to head straight to their pediatrician.
There have been 7 more pediatric deaths reported as of last week, but you need to understand that they did not all occur last week. Several were from late December and early January and are just now being reported. Again, in comparison to the number of people who have the flu and the number of deaths reported, the pediatric mortality rate is not alarmingly high. These deaths are tragic, but parents need to be reassured that most of these children had underlying health issues as well. During the 2009 Swine Flu epidemic, sadly over 225 children died.
It is still not too late to be vaccinated against the flu as there are typically 6 -8 more weeks of flu season ahead. The influenza A virus that is circulating doesn’t seem like it “wants to leave the country” anytime soon. My practice has run out of flu vaccine for those children over the age of 3, and there is not more vaccine available to order. We continue to vaccinate all babies as they reach 6 months of age!
Take home message again: If your child has fever, cough, sore throat and congestion but seems to respond to fever reducing medications, is hydrated, perks up and can play when their fever comes down and has no difficulty breathing, you may treat their symptoms at home and keep a close eye on them. The CDC does not recommend Tamiflu for everyone, but rather for those children who are at high risk of complications due to underlying conditions such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes or neurological problems. You would know if your child has one of these conditions.
Keep washing those little hands and teaching your children how to cough into the their elbow…i have been impressed by how many little ones have learned how to “cover their coughs!”