Influenza (more commonly referred to as flu) season is upon us so it’s important for parents to know how to prevent their children from getting sick, the signs and symptoms of the flu, and what to do if your child does come down with it.

Flu season can begin as early as October, usually peaks in January and February, and can continue into the spring months. The best way to protect ourselves and our children from the flu is to get a flu vaccine beginning in September before the season even starts. The vaccine is available as an injection for people (children and adults) over 6 months of age, and as an intranasal spray for healthy individuals age 2 years to 49 years old. The first year children under age 9 receive the vaccine, they will need two doses one month apart for full immunity.

But how can we protect babies under 6 months of age who are too young to be vaccinated? There are a few ways:

- All children over 6 months and adults who are in contact with the infant should be vaccinated to decrease the chance the child will come into contact with someone who has the flu

-  If a friend or family member does have cold and flu symptoms, try to keep them away from the baby

- Practice good hand washing techniques to avoid the spread of germs

-  Teach children and adults to cover their coughs and sneezes either with a tissue or with the upper part of their arm as it’s less likely to come into contact with commonly touched surfaces

- Be sure to throw any used tissues into the garbage and wash your hands afterwards. Note: Washing with warm soapy water is preferred but hand sanitizer is a good practical alternative
 
Despite our best efforts, thousands of people still become ill from the flu each year. How can you know if your child has the flu? The flu can be difficult to differentiate from the common cold as they both cause cough, runny nose, sore throat, and even fever. However, the flu is characterized by more prolonged fever, body aches, and fatigue. If anyone in the house is not feeling well for more than a few days, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor for guidance.

If your child does come down with a cold or the flu, treating the symptoms is usually the best option. Both are caused by viruses and don’t require antibiotics. It’s a good idea to have a thermometer on hand, and to give a fever reducer like acetaminophen or ibuprofen if your child is uncomfortable from a fever. If your child has a fever and is happy and playful, you don’t have to give medicine to bring the fever down to normal. I find that many parents focus on the number on the thermometer, rather than how their child is feeling. The reason to treat the fever is to provide comfort. If your child has a fever and doesn’t feel well, go ahead and give them medicine. But, realize that when the medicine wears off, the fever and achy symptoms may return and the dose may need to be repeated. While you are waiting for the medicine to work which can take 45 minutes to an hour, a lukewarm bath can assist with temperature reduction. Alternatively, you can bundle your child up if they are feeling chilly, or strip off their layers if they are feeling warm.

I get a lot of questions on how to treat cold and cough symptoms in my office. Unfortunately, cough and cold medicines have not been found to be effective in young children and aren’t recommended for anyone under age 4. A nasal aspirator is a great way to help babies too young to blow their noses. I also recommend a cool mist humidifier to help keep the nasal passages moist while children are sleeping.

Wishing everyone a healthy flu-free winter season!!