Guest Author - Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, M.D, F.A.A.P
Have you noticed that the flu always strikes at the worst time possible – before a big party or school event, when you have no back up childcare, when your spouse is out of town, when you have something important going on at work? It’s no wonder we all hope for a “quick” fix when we take our children to the doctor only to be disappointed when an antibiotic is not prescribed.
The vast majority of all illnesses are viral and not bacterial. While both types of infections are caused by tiny germs, only bacterial infections are treated by antibiotics. So, using an antibiotic for a viral infection will have no impact on how quickly the infection resolves and actually promotes bacterial resistance.
While a virus is self-limited, the illness often lasts 1-2 weeks. Usually the first week is the worst and the symptoms start to ease in the second week. Even though there is no actual treatment, there are many things you can do at home to help your child feel more comfortable and to ward off potentially serious complications:
1. When in doubt, call your doctor. All offices have someone available for phone advice and emergencies even when the office itself is not open.
2. Resist the temptation to rush your child to a doctor at the first sign of illness. Certainly very young infants and children and children who are very sick appearing likely need to be seen rather urgently but for all others, give the situation a day or so more to evolve.
3. Remember that fever is a sign of illness, not a diagnosis. In children, a temperature of 100.5 or greater is considered a fever. Many children do look sick when they have a fever and are uncomfortable. Don’t be scarred to give children over 3 months of age acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil). Be sure to give the correct dose – follow the guidelines on the label or ask your doctor or pharmacist. If our child is 3 months or younger, call your doctor first for advice.
4. Keep your house stocked with flu-friendly foods: gatorade, Pedialyte, jello, Popsicles, soup, and bland solids like cheerios, bananas, rice, apple sauce or saltines. Fluid intake is important in every illness even those without vomiting or diarrhea to avoid dehydration. Worrisome symptoms include refusing to drink, no tears when crying, dry mouth and lips, no wet diapers or urine output in 8-12 hours, and lethargy. Children with these symptoms should be evaluated fairly quickly either in your doctor’s office or your local emergency room.
5. Avoid the temptation to give your children over-the-counter cold products, especially for children under 2 years of age. They often do not work well in young children and have many unwanted side-effects from as sleeplessness and hyperactivity to drowsiness.
6. Don’t rush your child back to school unless your child has the stamina to get through the day. Fever needs to be gone for a full 24hours before returning to school and your child needs to be free of other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, severe cough. If you need to give your child special medication to help the symptoms or if your child still can’t eat or drink normally, he is not ready to return to school.
7. After any flu-like illness, increase your child’s regular activities slowly. Even when the symptoms are gone, your child may have less energy for a couple weeks more.
Every child is different and there is no hard and fast rule for how kids get through the flu. In the end, time, fluids and rest will cure most ails. And, if not, your pediatrician is only a phone call away for further guidance. When in doubt, drink chicken soup.