After closing schools and making headlines this spring, the pandemic novel H1N1 A (swine flu) is back and stirring up all of those parental anxieties anew. During the summer it quietly continued to infect kids in summer camps, summer schools and at home. Most cases remain mild with symptoms that are similar to seasonal flu.
But now that we’re starting flu season, what can we expect? Will H1N1 cause severe illness like the 1918 flu epidemic or continue to be a mild flu that just makes lots of people sick? The good news is that most experts believe it will remain mild this fall although there will be lots and lots of sick people. This pandemic flu will likely result in significant impacts to health care systems, schools and businesses.
Severe illness is more common in persons with underlying medical conditions however 40% of the serious cases have been in people who are healthy with no preexisting conditions. As schools open nation wide cases are now picking up around the country as we enter week four of the second wave. The volume of patients coming into the emergency room with flu-like symptoms has increased since school has started. Parents can ease their anxieties by arming themselves with facts about H1N1 and using the following commonsense tips to get through this stressful flu season.
It’s all about CLEAN! Wash your hands FREQUENTLY! Use disinfectant wipes often!
The virus is spread by droplets from coughs and sneezes as well as touching hands and objects contaminated with these droplets. H1N1 can survive on surfaces for 24 to 48 hours. After contracting H1N1, you can be contagious up to 48 hours before becoming ill, and up to seven days after your symptoms first appear.
Younger kids spread the virus easily because their personal hygiene leaves something to be desired. But, your ultra-connected tweens and teens also can spread the virus when they handle each other’s phones, computer keyboards, iPods and video games. Encourage your kids to use hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes after each use. Every kid should be armed with their own bottle of hand sanitizer and know when to use it.
Know what to look for – know the signs and symptoms of flu
Know when to call for help – when is it an emergency?
The novel H1N1 “likes” young people… and they may become severely ill from H1N1. Call your doctor if your child has symptoms including rapid breathing, not drinking enough, fussiness or if symptoms improve and then return with high fever and worsened cough. Take your child to the emergency room immediately if he has trouble breathing, bluish or gray skin color, has severe or persistent vomiting, is not easily aroused from sleep or is not interacting with others.
Mild illness? Don’t pack your kid to the doctor, call your doctor first
If your child just feels lousy, and doesn’t have any of the emergency symptoms listed above, call your pediatrician instead of heading to the hospital. If it is a mild illness in which there is no evidence of respiratory distress, avoid the emergency room, because your wait time is probably long, and you don’t need emergency care. Ask to talk to your doctor or his office staff first before you make an appointment. Depending on your child’s health history, your doctor may want to prescribe treatment over the phone to avoid spreading the virus to others.
If it looks like flu it probably is flu – treat it like flu!
Most health care providers are only testing is for H1N1 only in seriously ill patients admitted to the hospital. False negative tests are common with the rapid flu test so a negative test doesn’t definitively rule out an infection with influenza virus. As of last week 90 – 95% of the circulating virus in the US was H1N1…if it is the flu, treat it like the flu…as long as the child is not seriously ill it doesn’t matter what kind it is!
Your doctor may decide to start treatment if your child has an underlying condition that places her at high risk. If the office is full of flu cases, the school has flu cases, your child’s buddies all have the flu and your child has symptoms—it is likely that she has the flu.
If your child has the symptoms and is in an at-risk group, your doctor may choose to treat her with oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza), antivirals that shorten the duration and severity of the illness for H1N1 virus.
The CDC currently recommends treatment of H1N1 only for persons who are hospitalized with the flu or who have an underlying medical condition that places them at high risk. Others not in these categories do not usually need treatment.
Sick kid? Keep them home
Sick child (and adults too!) should stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone (without the use of a fever-reducing medicine) except to get medical care or for other necessities, according to the CDC. Try to keep your child away from others as much as possible. Encourage her to cover her mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, throw away used tissue in the waste basket, and to clean her hands every time she coughs or sneezes.
Get the H1N1 vaccine when available
Federal officials expect release of the H1N1 vaccine in mid-October. One shot is that that will be required to protect against H1N1. If the child is under nine and has not been vaccinated before for the flu they will require two shots. Be sure to vaccinate your child for seasonal flu as well which is available now.
This too shall pass – Live your lives
Be smart, use common sense, encourage and practice great health hygiene and live your lives.
Talking to your kids about H1N1 http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/talkingtokids.htm
Parents and H1N1 http://www.childrensmemorial.org/depts/infectious/swine-flu.aspx
Parents and Common Sense H1N1 http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/164521.php