The past year and a half has brought a lot of uncertainty during a global pandemic with fears of COVID-19. Now, as we enter cold and ﬂu season, medical professionals are even more concerned. Delphene Noland is the manager of Infection Prevention and Control at Children’s of Alabama. She’s concerned that families, already fatigued from the pandemic, may let their guard down this ﬂu season. “I think my biggest concern is that people become lax and forget that the ﬂu is a real threat to our community,” she said.
There’s hope that the measures already being taken to respond to COVID-19 may help mitigate the ﬂu. Masks, social distancing and hand washing are all helpful in limiting the spread of both coronavirus and the ﬂu. But the increase in positive COVID-19 cases statewide shows those eﬀorts are not enough to stop transmission entirely. That’s why Noland says it’s critical to get the ﬂu shot this year. “It is of the utmost importance to get your ﬂu shot,” she said. “They are available now. Make it a family event and get everyone vaccinated for the ﬂu.”
How can parents recognize the diﬀerence between the ﬂu and coronavirus? What complicates matters is that their symptoms are so similar. “Loss of taste and smell is hallmark COVID-19,” Noland says. “Shortness of breath, is usually seen later in the ﬂu process if the patient gets pneumonia as a complication. But shortness of breath can be seen early on in patients with COVID-19.”
Symptoms Unique to COVID-19:
– Loss of taste and smell
– Shortness of breath in early stages
Symptoms of Both COVID-19 and the Flu:
– Runny nose
– Sore throat
– Nausea, Vomiting
And if your child is sick, seek guidance from your pediatrician or primary care provider. “Your pediatrician is your source of truth,” Noland said.
A: Influenza (also known as the flu) is an infection of the respiratory tract. It is caused by a virus that spreads easily from person to person. It spreads when people cough or sneeze out droplets that are infected with the virus and other people breathe them in. The droplets also can land on things like doorknobs or shopping carts, infecting people who touch these things.
Q: Is flu contagious?
A: The flu is very contagious. People can spread it from a day before they feel sick until their symptoms are gone. This is about one week for adults, but it can be longer for young children.
Q: How will I know if my child has flu and not just a cold?
A: The fall and winter months are cold and flu season. Both the cold and the flu can present similar symptoms, including cough, congestion and runny nose. In general, the flu hits a lot harder and quicker than a cold. When people have the flu, they usually feel worse than they do with a cold. Most people start to feel sick about two days after they come in contact with the flu virus.
Q: What are some symptoms of flu?
A: Common symptoms of the flu include:
Fever or feeling feverish with chills, though not all people with the flu will have a fever
Runny or stuffy nose
Muscle or body aches
Vomiting and diarrhea, which are more common in children
Q: When should we get this season’s flu vaccine?
A: Flu season in the United States is from October to May. Vaccines are provided at most pediatricians’ offices. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the flu shot for everyone over 6 months old.
Q: What is the treatment for flu?
A: Most children with flu get better at home. In the event a child does get sick, you can help mitigate symptoms. Make sure your child is drinking plenty of fluids. You can give appropriate doses of acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve fever and aches, and make sure they are getting plenty of rest.
Q: When should I seek medical treatment for my child if I suspect flu?
A: Bring your child to the doctor if you’re concerned about severe symptoms. Most of the time parents can care for their children with plenty of rest, fluids and extra comfort. Some children are more likely to have problems when they get the flu, including:
children up to the age of 5, especially babies
children and teens whose immune system is weakened from medicines or illnesses
children and teens with chronic (long-term) medical conditions, such as asthma or diabetes
Q: In addition to the flu vaccine, how else can we stay healthy during cold and flu season?
A: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the flu shot for everyone over 6 months old. Here are some other tips for staying healthy during cold and flu season:
Cover your cough and sneeze
Wash your hands
Clean living and working areas
Stay home from work or school if you are sick
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
Q: How can we prevent the spread of germs in our house if my child is sick?
A: The flu virus spreads when people cough or sneeze out droplets that are infected with the virus and other people breathe them in. The droplets also can land on things like doorknobs or shopping carts, infecting people who touch these things.
Teaching children the importance of hand washing is the best way to stop germs from causing sickness. It’s especially important after coughing or nose blowing, after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food.
There’s a right way to wash hands, too. Use warm water and plenty of soap, then rub your hands together vigorously for at least 20 seconds (away from the water). Children can sing a short song — try “Happy Birthday” — during the process to make sure they spend enough time washing. Rinse your hands and finish by drying them well on a clean towel. Hand sanitizer can be a good way for children to kill germs on their hands when soap and water aren’t available.
Cleaning household surfaces well is also important. Wipe down frequently handled objects around the house, such as toys, doorknobs, light switches, sink fixtures, and flushing handles on the toilets.
Soap and water are perfectly fine for cleaning. If you want something stronger, you can try an antibacterial cleanser. It may not kill all the germs that can lead to sickness, but it can reduce the amount of bacteria on an object.
It’s generally safe to use any cleaning agent that’s sold in stores but try to avoid using multiple cleaning agents or chemical sprays on a single object because the mix of chemicals can irritate skin and eyes.
Q: If my child has had flu, when can he return to school, child care, etc.?
A: Children with the flu should stay home from school and childcare until they feel better. They should only go back when they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without using a fever-reducing medicine. Some children need to stay home longer. Ask the doctor what’s best for your child.
Q: How do I know if my child’s symptoms are flu or COVID-19?
A: The symptoms between these two viral illnesses can be similar, making it difficult to distinguish between the two based on symptoms alone. Diagnostic testing can help determine if you are sick with the flu or COVID-19. A phone call to the child’s pediatrician or primary care provider will help determine next steps regarding testing for flu and/or COVID-19.
Q: Do COVID-19 symptoms develop like flu symptoms?
A: If a person has COVID-19, it could take them longer to develop symptoms than if they had flu. According to the CDC, symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. People with these symptoms may have COVID-19:
Lyme disease is an infection caused by a tick bite. If left untreated it can lead to problems with the skin, heart, brain and joints. Tori Gennaro, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Children’s of Alabama, says it’s important for parents to be on the lookout for ticks and the symptoms of Lyme disease in their child.
The good news is, not all tick bites cause Lyme disease, and it’s more common in the Northeastern part of the United States. It’s spread from the deer or black legged tick, usually in the summer months.
Fortunately, in most cases, Lyme disease is easily treatable. “It’s usually treated with a 10–21-day course of antibiotics,” Gennaro say. “Once they’re treated with antibiotics the recovery is fairly quick and complete. It can take a few weeks or longer.”
Usually, because ticks are so small, a parent or child may not even see one or know the child was bitten until there are symptoms.
Symptoms of Lyme disease include:
Red, circular rash that looks like a bullseye
Flu like symptoms
“Prevention is key,” Gennaro says. “We recommend using a good insect repellent that has DEET.” She also advises to wear long sleeves and pants when walking in the woods, stay on trails and avoid tall brush, shower immediately after being in the woods and check daily for ticks. “Make sure you’re checking armpits, in your hair and groin as those are the areas where ticks tend to hide,” Gennaro says. If you believe your child has suffered a tick bite and is demonstrating the symptoms of Lyme disease, contact your pediatrician.
With the dramatic rise in the COVID-19 Delta variant in Alabama, especially among children and adolescents, Children’s Hospital of Alabama (Children’s of Alabama) strongly recommends the following to help keep our children safe from the spread of the virus as they return to school and school activities:
Masking for students in the in-person school setting, regardless of vaccination status
All others, especially unvaccinated adults, should wear masks inside buildings at all times, especially around children under 12 years of age, who are not yet eligible for vaccination.
Full vaccination for all those who are 12 and older
Avoid large crowds and socially distance to the extent possible
Handwashing and/or the use of hand sanitizer
While each school district must decide the best ways to safeguard its students, Children’s of Alabama firmly believes that masking, social distancing and vaccination are most effective in preventing the spread of the virus.
These steps will help to keep Alabama’s children in school, learning and healthy.
Pitching a tent, hiking a new trail and roasting s’mores all make up a perfect summer day. Now that summer is in full swing, it is a great time to get outside with your family to camp and hike. Spending time with your kids is important and fun summer activities create memories that last.
Before you head out on your next camping trip, it is important to understand and identify wildlife that could be potentially dangerous to your family. When camping and hiking, be cognizant of ticks, venomous snakes and poisonous plants. These dangers could turn into a trip to the emergency room.
Ticks are small parasitic insects that are found in bushy areas with tall grass and leaf litter. Although they are miniscule in size, their bite can be dangerous. Ticks carry diseases, including Lyme disease, which is the most common tick-born disease in the United States. But don’t panic because your child’s risk of developing Lyme disease is very low here in Alabama.
“Although Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in the U.S., it is not in Alabama,” said Ann Slattery, director of the Alabama Poison Information Center. “Spotted FeverRickettsiosis is the most common tick-borne disease in Alabama.”
To keep ticks away while camping and hiking:
• Wear closed-toed shoes or boots, long-sleeved shirts and pants
• Tuck pant legs into socks or shoes for extra protection
• Pull long hair back or wear a hat
• Stay on trail
• Use insect repellent with 20% to 30% DEET and always follow the directions for use carefully
Be sure to check your family for ticks each day of your camping trip. Look in these areas particularly: behind the ears, around the groin, behind the knees and under the arms. If you find a tick, remove it immediately.
Most snakes in North America are not venomous. However, a bite from a venomous snake could be life threatening for children and adults. Keep an eye out for these six venomous snakes in Alabama:
• Timber Rattlesnake
• Pigmy Rattlesnake
• Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
• Eastern Coral Snake
Most snakes do their best to avoid people. They will only bite if they feel threatened, surprised or concerned. If your family sees a snake, leave it be and stay away from it.
If your child is bitten by a venomous snake, Slattery recommends to:
• Immediately go to the closest emergency department
• Remove rings and any constrictive items
• Don’t apply a tourniquet
• Don’t apply ice
• Don’t attempt to cut the area or suck out the venom
• Keep your child calm and warm
Poisonous plants like poison ivy linger around wooded areas and even your own backyard. Poison ivy can be hard to identify because it is often mixed in with other plants. The plant has three leaves on one stem. Remind your kids of the saying, “leaves of three, let them be.”
If you’ve encountered poison ivy before, you know that it causesan itchy, red rash. The “poison” in poison ivy comes from the plant’s colorless, odorless oil, urushiol. Surprisingly, urushiol is not poisonous, but an allergen. Most people who touch it get an allergic reaction. To avoid getting a rash, wear long clothes in areas where poison ivy may grow. And if your kids touch the plant or oil from the plant, wash their skin right away with plenty of soap and water.
“There is an influx of plant exposures reported to the Alabama Poison Information Center over the summer,” said Slattery. “Fortunately, more than 90 percent of these we treat and are observed at home.”
If your family finds themselves in a predicament this summerwith bites, stings and rashes, call 1-800-222-1222 to reach the Alabama Poison Information Center at Children’s of Alabama. It is a 24/7 hotline offering free and confidential poison information and treatment recommendations. To learn more about the Alabama Poison Information Center visit https://www.childrensal.org/apic.
Fireworks are synonymous with the 4th of July holiday. With some communities across the country canceling their professional displays this year because of social distancing concerns, there could be an increase in the personal use of fireworks, along with a potential for increased injuries.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) continues to urge families not to buy fireworks for their own or their children’s use, as thousands of people, most often children and teens, are injured each year while using consumer fireworks.
Sue Rowe, a charge nurse in the Burn Center at Children’s of Alabama, has advice for those who choose to use their own fireworks this 4th of July.
Her number one fireworks safety rule? “Never leave children unattended around fireworks.”
If you are using fireworks on your own, only use them with adult supervision. Keep children at a safe distance from lit fireworks. She also suggests keeping a bucket of water nearby. Store fireworks in a safe place, outside the main living area, such as in a garage or storage area, out of a child’s sight and reach.
And while sparklers may seem like a safe alternative to large, showy displays, they can be just as dangerous. “The tip of a sparkler produces a significant amount of intense heat,” Rowe said. The AAP reports that sparklers can reach above 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit – hot enough to melt some metals.
However, accidents do happen, and Rowe offers tips if your child is burned with a firework. “The first thing is to immediately apply cool water to the burn site.” She cautions against ice packs, though. For home care, “apply a topical antibiotic ointment to the affected area.” If the burn is significant, a trip to the closest emergency department is advised.
Each year, more than 300 children are admitted to the Burn Center at Children’s of Alabama, the only designated pediatric burn center in the state and one of the largest in the southeast. A specially trained team of pediatric surgeons, registered nurses, physical and occupational therapists, social workers, child life therapists, teachers, pastoral care staff, nutritionists and burn technicians work together to form a cohesive team of professionals dedicated to treating children with burn injuries. The Children’s of Alabama Burn Center is a six-bed specialty unit designed to care for the needs of burn patients ages birth to teenagers. On an outpatient basis, the Burn Clinic treats more than 900 patients every year. For more information, visit www.childrensal.org/BurnCenter.
Reading is fundamental. It affects all areas of a child’s success. And summertime is a great time to make reading a priority. Dr. Amy McCollum is a pediatrician at Midtown Pediatrics in Birmingham. She says it is important for parents to help encourage strong reading habits in their child and she says, that begins at birth. “I would really encourage parents from birth to start reading to their baby,” she says. “Holding your child and reading a book together is going to have these great associations of attachment and connection. Your voice, which is the most comforting voice, is going to be what they hear.”
As the child gets older, Dr. McCollum says parents should encourage their child to choose what books they want to read. And she adds, don’t worry if they stick with the same theme, or want to read the same book over and over; they’re still reading.
Make library visits a regular part of your summer. Dr. McCollum says, if you are able, choose one day a week that is a library day. “Talk to the librarian, let them suggest books the child might like,” she says. “Check out books on a regular basis and sign up for summer reading programs at the library.”
Again, Dr. McCollum says, as the child gets older, continue to let them choose the books they are interested in. “I think sticking with the topic of letting them choose what they’re interested in is important,” she says. “For instance, if your son only wants to read graphic novels instead of chapter books, that’s fine if that’s what he enjoys.”
As kids get older, encouraging good reading habits can be challenging, as video games and devices serve as constant distractions. Dr. McCollum knows this firsthand, “We just have to fight to fight. In my family 30 minutes of reading gets you 30 minutes of video game time,” she says.
And parents should ask themselves, am I modeling good reading habits to my child, or am I spending my free time on a device? By putting forth a little bit of effort and intentionality, any child can become a reader.
BIRMINGHAM (June 1, 2021) – Children’s of Alabama announced two promotions in its leadership today.
Andy Loehr was named Senior Vice President of Operations and Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) and Delicia Mason was promoted to the role of Vice President of Nursing Operations.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with each of them and to see the impressive result of their strong leadership abilities. This was never more so than during the past year in response to Covid-19,” said Tom Shufflebarger, Children’s President and CEO. “I know Andy and Delicia will continue to make our organization even stronger in the future. It’s my pleasure to recognize them with increased responsibilities in these new roles.”
Loehr joined Children’s in 2014 as the Vice President of Nursing Operations and was promoted to the role of CNO in 2020. Prior to joining Children’s, he was a staff registered nurse, pediatric nurse practitioner and nursing director at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo. He began his career at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas as a staff registered nurse in hematology-oncology.
Loehr graduated from Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. He received a master’s degree in nursing and pediatric nurse practitioner certification from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He received his Doctor in Nursing Practice from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and completed a fellowship in nursing leadership with the American Organization of Nurse Executives.
Mason joined Children’s in 1998 as a staff nurse in PICU and has worked as a Charge Nurse, Unit Educator, Quality Outcomes Coordinator, and most recently as Division Director of Inpatient Nursing and the Emergency Department. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Nursing from Auburn University at Montgomery and a master’s degree in Nursing Health Systems Administration from UAB.
Since 1911, Children’s of Alabama has provided specialized medical care for ill and injured children, offering inpatient, outpatient and primary care throughout central Alabama. Children’s is a private, not-for-profit medical center that serves as the teaching hospital for the UAB pediatric medicine, surgery, psychiatry, research and residency programs. The medical staff consists of UAB faculty and Children’s full-time physicians as well as private practicing community physicians.
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health issues of childhood and adolescence. Anxiety disorders cause extreme fear and worry, and changes in a child’s behavior, sleep, eating or mood. Parents should be cognizant of ways to help their child deal with stress and anxiety at a young age so it doesn’t worsen or compound into other mental health issues.
Parents can teach their child coping skills to deal with stress and anxiety. Coping skills help children manage anxiety in a healthy way. Children can feel stress and anxiety for many different reasons, whether it is a parent’s divorce, controversial world news or a relative’s illness. Academic or social pressures can also increase stress. Some children are people pleasers, perfectionists or have type A personalities, which can contribute to anxiety. Parents should teach their child how to manage their time and responsibilities to prevent feelings of being stressed, overwhelmed or overcommitted. Parents should also be cautious when discussing serious issues when their pre-adolescent children are near because children will often pick up on their parents’ anxieties and start to worry themselves.
Dr. Natalie Krenz, clinical psychologist in the Children’s Behavioral Health unit, said parents can teach the following coping skills to their pre-adolescent children struggling with anxiety:
Use the “sniff the flowers” and “blow bubbles” technique
Teach child to relax by taking a deep breath in (like they are sniffing flowers) and taking a deep breath out (like they are blowing out bubbles)
Since this idea uses imaginary flowers and bubbles, children can use this technique anywhere
Use the “squeeze lemons” technique
Teach child to imagine they are squeezing the lemon juice from the lemon and then shaking the lemon juice out
This demonstrates the tensing and relaxation of the muscles
Parents should take steps to help their child deal with stress and anxiety at a very young age. Dr. Krenz said being a good role model by modeling healthy techniques to cope with anxiety is very effective. A parent may tell their child they had a stressful day, so they are going to take a break and do something relaxing – going on a walk, taking a bath, engaging in a hobby such as painting or reading, or partaking in deep breathing exercises.
Another important step parents can take to help children cope with anxiety and stress is to communicate to children that it’s okay to feel scared, worried or stressed. Parents should be sure to validate their child’s feelings first, then work together to come up with a solution to cope with stress in a healthy way.
Parents should not only model self-care for their children, but they should also encourage their child to partake in self-care on a regular basis. Important self-care methods for children include getting 10-11 hours of sleep per night for ages 5-10 and 8-10 hours of sleep for ages 10-17, having a balanced diet, and avoiding the use of electronics before bed.
Trauma of any form, including physical, sexual or emotional abuse, dangerous living situations, academic issues, personality tendencies or certain genetic components can cause anxiety in children.
Some children have learning disabilities, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or a high-achieving personality, which can contribute to stress at school. A child’s personality type – more introverted or timid – could contribute to development of anxiety.
“Low Socioeconomic status (SES) children are also more at risk for developing anxiety,” Dr. Krenz said, “due to the tendency of low SES families living in neighborhoods that are not safe.” This could result in children being prone to experiencing an event that is traumatic for them, such as gun shots. Dr. Krenz said the likelihood for anxiety depends on what the child perceives as traumatic.
Genetic components can also contribute to anxiety. If a parent experienced anxiety at a young age, the child is more likely to have the genetic components for anxiety.
“A parent should seek professional help if their child is dealing with anxiety and stress that interferes with their functioning; the child can’t control anxious feelings and it worsens as time goes on,” Dr. Krenz said. If the child is not engaging in self-care or missing school, parents should consider these as telltale indications they should seek professional help for their child.
Parents should discuss options with their pediatrician. Dr. Krenz suggests looking into therapy before choosing the route of medication. It is also important to consider that anxiety often coexists with other mental health conditions, including depression. While anxiety is a pervasive issue among children and teenagers, parents should be encouraged that there are many effective coping skills and resources to help their child.
If your child needs help with coping, anxiety or mental health issues, these resources are available at Children’s of Alabama :
Behavioral Health unit general number – 205-638-9193
Psychiatric Intake Response Center – 205-638-PIRC
CHIPS (Children’s Hospital Intervention & Prevention Services) Center – 205-638-2751
Amelia Center (for grieving children and teens) – 205-638-7481
Vaping is on the rise among American teens. A recent study by “The Truth Initiative” found that 27.5% of American high school students use vape products. Susan Walley is a pediatrician at Children’s of Alabama. She says it’s very important for parents to understand the dangers of vaping and to be able to recognize e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes are battery-powered smoking devices that have cartridges filled with a liquid that contains nicotine, chemicals and flavoring.
Walley says oftentimes teachers and parents do not even recognize the cartridges when they see them. “Juul is one of the most common e-cigarettes,” Walley says. “The device is very small and can be hidden in backpacks and pockets. It looks like a USB charger, so oftentimes when we show teachers and parents the products they say, I saw those but didn’t recognize them!” Walley adds that the nicotine in those small, liquid cartridges can be the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes.
Health experts are reporting serious lung damage in people who vape, including some deaths. Walley warns, “The facts are e-cigarettes are dangerous, particularly for youth. Thousands of people have been hospitalized with e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injury, also known as EVALI. These products have toxins in them that are very dangerous,” she adds.
In addition to the lung damage, nicotine is highly addictive and can slow brain development in kids and teens and affects areas like memory, concentration, self-control, and mood. It also increases the risk of other types of addiction. Many e-cigarette products appeal directly to young children through the use of fruit flavors, and even branding that can appear cartoon-like. Walley warns parents to be on the lookout beginning at an early age for signs of e-cigarette use. It is recommended that parents talk with their children and teens about the dangers of vaping. And if you believe your child has already started, look for programs to help them quit. It is important for parents to be engaged and tune into what their children are doing to help them stay safe.