What is the Flu?
The flu is a contagious illness caused by a group of respiratory viruses called human influenza virus. These viruses mutate at a very high rate, which can make preventing and treating them very difficult. Although the flu can be relatively mild and self-limiting, it can also be quite severe and result in hospitalization or death. The following populations are at higher risk for complications (pneumonia, dehydration, other secondary infections) than others:
Young (especially < 2 years old)
Old (> 65 years old)
Those with certain health problems like asthma, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or neurologic conditions
Flu season typically runs from October-May, peaking between December and February. Because every flu season is different, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) monitors the spread of the flu very closely.
The common cold and the flu share many symptoms so it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two.
Muscle or body aches
You should seek medical care if you or your child exhibit any of these symptoms:
Ribs pulling in with each breath
No urine for 8 hours
Severe muscle pain (e.g. child refuses to walk)
Not alert/interacting when awake
Fever >104 F (or in children less than 12 weeks, any fever)
How Is My Child Tested For The Flu?
Your child’s provider will order a flu test for your child if they feel necessary after evaluating them. Flu tests can be obtained at the clinic with a nasal swab. Results are available in about 15 minutes. Depending on how long symptoms have been present and your child’s exposure, getting tested may not be necessary nor may it be helpful:
If symptoms have been present for longer than 48 hours, because antiviral treatment is no longer effective, testing is often not necessary. The exception to this is if other members at home are beginning to show signs/symptoms. By testing your child, this may allow for other members to begin treatment.
If your child is showing signs and symptoms of the flu and has been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the flu, then your provider may determine that testing is not necessary and proceed with treatment.
What Is The Treatment?
In addition to supportive care (Tylenol, ibuprofen, adequate fluid intake), the flu symptoms can be decreased with an antiviral called Tamiflu. Tamiflu requires a prescription from your doctor and cannot be obtained over the counter. Antibiotics are not effective in treating the flu. If it has been more than 48 hours since symptom onset, Tamiflu is no longer effective in helping with the flu. Check out our full Tamiflu policy here. Possible side effects of Tamiflu include, but are not limited to:
Mood/behavioral changes (<1%)
Sleep changes (<1%)
If no additional flu complications develop, you can expect your child to be sick for approximately 3-7 days, with symptoms peaking between days 2 and 4. Your child should be okay to return to school after their symptoms improve and are fever free for 24 hours. Contact your doctor if symptoms worsen or:
Your child’s fever lasts longer than 5 days
Symptoms such as cough and congestion have not improved after 7-10 days
The best way to protect your child from having serious complications from the flu is by getting the annual flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is offered for those greater than 6 months of age. Panda Pediatrics offers flu vaccine from October-January, though supplies vary depending on the time of year. We even offer a seasonal clinic for this vaccine, for more information about the clinic or the vaccine, check out the page on our flu vaccine clinic.
The viruses that cause the flu mutate every year, meaning that unlike the vaccines we get when we are children, we must be re-vaccinated in order to achieve the best protection. Every year a new vaccine is developed from the most recent form of the virus.
IS IT BETTER TO GET THE FLU THAN THE FLU VACCINE?
No. The flu can be a serious disease and carries the risk of serious complications, hospitalization or death, even among healthy individuals. Getting vaccinated is the safer choice, rather than risking illness.
CAN I GET THE FLU FROM THE FLU VACCINE?
No. Occasionally, the flu vaccine can cause some mild muscle soreness and a low-grade fever that will resolve in a few days.
WHY DID I GET THE FLU EVEN THOUGH I GOT THE FLU VACCINE?
Although the vaccine is our best form of protection from the flu, the effectiveness from year to year varies. That being said, the flu vaccine helps decrease the severity, duration, and complications that you may have experienced otherwise, which is why we still recommend getting it every year.
WHAT ARE SOME OTHER BENEFITS FROM GETTING THE FLU VACCINE?
Not everyone can receive the flu vaccine, in particular, infants less than 6 months of age (who are at very high risk for complications!). Those who get the flu vaccine help protect these individuals!