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Spring Approaches, But Flu Season May Not Be Over Yet

The length of “flu season” can vary each year, and while the flu doesn’t always stick to a calendar, there’s still time to get your annual vaccine.

“It is not too late to get a flu vaccine,” said Dr. Megan Brennard of Children’s of Alabama’s emergency department. “The best way to protect yourself is to get the flu vaccine every year.” Brennard said she has seen an increase in the number of positive flu tests in recent weeks at Children’s.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. Like most viruses, it is spread mainly by droplets made when people infected with the flu sneeze, cough or talk. These droplets can travel as far as 6 feet, Brennard said.

Flu can be a serious illness and may be a life-threatening illness for some children. Most healthy children will have mild symptoms, and parents can check with their child’s pediatrician if they have concerns. Children with chronic conditions or young infants are at higher risk for complications of the flu and should be seen by their pediatrician.

An annual flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months and older. Brennard said parents should consult with the child’s pediatrician to determine which is the appropriate vaccination for their child, either a shot or a nasal-spray.

Babies under the age of 6 months are at higher risk of getting flu because they are too young for the vaccine. “The best way to protect babies under 6 months old from getting the flu is for parents and other adults around them, such as grandparents and other extended family members, to get vaccinated. It’s also wise to keep babies away from large crowds during flu season,” Brennard said.

In addition to the vaccine, Brennard said you can limit your exposure to the virus by washing hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer; wiping down common surfaces like kitchen and bathroom counters and doorknobs; and not sharing items such as eating utensils, towels and bed linens.

Flu symptoms may appear quickly. These symptoms may include a fever, cough, runny nose, fatigue, muscle aches. Sometimes children also experience vomiting and abdominal pain. “Symptoms may last last three to five days, but they could last up to two weeks,” Brennard said. However, if symptoms worsen after two to three days or new symptoms develop, it’s time to consult with doctors again.

Because the flu is caused by a virus, the illness isn’t treated with antibiotics. “Treating the flu is all about supportive care. That means making sure your child is drinking fluids and staying hydrated, giving fever reducing medication and getting rest.” Antiviral medications can be prescribed, but Brennard said that these “aren’t a cure for the flu.” Antiviral medications are recommended for the most serious cases of flu.

For children who have had the flu, Brennard said they are typically cleared to return to school after being fever free (without the aid of fever reducing medicines) for 24 hours.

And even if your family has avoided the flu to this point, it’s always a good idea to be prepared, Brennard said. “Stocking up on supplies in advance is a good way to have your home ready if the flu strikes,” she said. Items such as tissues, hand soap, surface cleaners, disinfectant, a thermometer, drinking water or other electrolyte-based fluids like Gatorade or Pedialyte, and non-prescription medicines like pain relievers and fever reducers are all good to have on hand should a family member get sick.

Choking

When a child is choking, it can be a pretty scary situation. But if you know how to respond, in most cases the outcome is favorable and a life can be saved.

Children can choke on many things, from small toys to food. Debbie Coshatt, a nurse educator in the Patient Health and Safety Department at Children’s of Alabama, said if a child is coughing but not choking, stay nearby and encourage them to cough.

A child may be choking and need immediate help if he or she:

  • Opens mouth and can’t breathe
  • Is gasping or wheezing
  • Demonstrates universal sign of choking (hands to throat)
  • Turns blue or pale

If you see these signs, ACT FAST!  This is an emergency situation.

How to help a child who is choking
If the child is over the age of one, immediately perform abdominal thrusts (also known as the Heimlich maneuver). Coshatt explains the procedure is very easy. “You’re going to go right above the belly button, make a fist and do inward and upward motions,” she said.

This is actually simulating a cough for the child who is choking.  Coshatt said parents should never be intimidated to perform this procedure. The key is to act fast and be firm.  Don’t worry about injuring the child who is choking. The goal is to get the object out quickly so they can breathe.

How to help a baby who is choking
If the child is under one year old, perform back blows and chest thrusts. Lay the baby across your arm, face down. It’s best to be seated so you can rest your arm on your leg. Do five back blows with the heel of your hand in the middle of their back between the shoulder blades, then carefully turn the baby over protecting the head and neck, and perform five chest thrusts using your two or three fingers in the middle of their chest. To do a chest thrust, press straight down on the chest about 1 1/2 inches. Then allow the chest to come back to its normal position. You will complete the five back blows and five chest thrusts until the object comes out or if the baby starts to cough, forcefully cry, or breathe on its own.

Coshatt said these procedures are highly effective and in most cases the object comes out quickly without having to call for emergency assistance.

If at any time the baby or child loses consciousness, call 911 immediately.

There are things parents can do to help prevent a choking incident.

Preventing Choking:

-Make sure kids eat while seated

-Avoid laughing, playing while eating

-Don’t allow children under five to have hard candies or nuts

-Watch for small household items or toys that can pose a choking hazard

-Foods like hot dogs, carrots and grapes should be cut length wise and crosswise to prevent choking

Remember, it’s not just a small child who can choke.  Older children and adults can as well.

Coshatt said the most critical thing for parents to realize is the importance of taking action quickly and not being afraid to help. In most cases, a life can be saved.