Kids and the Flu Epidemic

Today, throughout America, our population is fighting the flu. Area school systems are discussing whether or not to hold classes due to the flu affecting school children. Merriam Webster‘s primary definition of an epidemic is anything [in this case, a disease] that affects a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community or region at the same time. Dr. Tom Farley, New York City’s Health Commissioner, announced on CNN recently that the flu outbreak has reached epidemic proportions in New York City and he’s not certain if it has peaked!

At this time, 47 states in the continental U.S. are experiencing widespread flu activity, according to CNN, and an incredible increase in the number of visits to hospital emergency rooms by people with flu symptoms, according to Dr. Farley. Some hospitals have set up tents outside their emergency rooms to handle the numbers of “incoming”. A sad and startling reality is, according to the CDC since September 30, 2012, there have been 40 pediatric deaths in the United Statesdue to the flu, at least 20 deaths of children under age ten since January 1, 2013.  “Children are at a higher risk for the flu because their immune systems are not fully developed. Children with chronic health conditions are at even higher risk of getting the flu and experiencing complications.”

Parents and caregivers need to take this year’s flu epidemic seriously. There are several types of flu: Influenza A has been typed in 79% of the specimens and seems to be the heavy hitter with two and possibly three different strains. Influenza B accounts for approximately 20% of the flu specimens which have been typed across the country for the first week of January.

If you and your children (older than 6 months old) have not gotten flu shots, there is still flu vaccine available. CDC says the current flu vaccine is at least 60 percent effective against the flu (CDC, January 11, 2013, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report). You can still get the flu even if you get the shot, but, in Dr. Farley’s opinion, you may get a less virulent version. You still may be able to get the flu shot from your primary care physician, but you also may need to make a phone call or two to locate a source of the vaccine in your area if your primary care provider doesn’t have it. It’s still not too late to be vaccinated and to gain some protection against the flu.

With this year’s flu, fever is usually present, chills are possible, along with headache and moderate-to-severe body aches and fatigue. Rapid onset of symptoms is characteristic of this year’s flu with a 3-to-6 hour incubation period. It feels like a cold coming on, only stronger. Coughs are dry and unproductive, and sore throats are less common, according to the Associated Press (“Do You really Have Flu?”, The Daily News Record, January 14, 2013, Associated Press, Harrisonburg, VA).

Children are getting the flu in inordinate proportions, so parents need to watch out for symptoms and keep kids home from school if a fever is present! Sanjay Gupta, MD, (of CNN) recommends that parents also make sure to “Wash, wash, wash hands!”, not just a cursory rinsing of little hands under water but rub them together with real soap, real water–not just hand-sanitizer for a good two minutes. Gupta says he sings the happy birthday song with his children twice while they are washing their hands, and devotes at least two full minutes to hand-washing each time!

This flu is a bad bug, so we hope those who follow take heed and pass on the precautions that could help keep you and your family from getting it.

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