Influenza is a viral infection of the respiratory tract. It can occur in epidemic proportions during the winter. Because the structure of the virus may change every two or three years, people will periodically be susceptible to a virus they have never been exposed to before. This creates the possibility of an epidemic outbreak of influenza, or "the flu," every two to three years. Between epidemics, smaller outbreaks may occur as people or young children not exposed in the last outbreak are infected.
Influenza is very contagious and is spread by contact with an infected person. A person is contagious from about two days before symptoms occur until about the fifth day of the illness. Symptoms of influenza include chills, fever, headache, achiness, fatigue, and lack of appetite.
Treatment is generally directed at alleviating symptoms, which can make the sufferer truly miserable. Although the illness generally runs its course in three to four days, complications such as encephalitis, pneumonia, croup, or seizures can occur. If any of these develop, your child will need immediate medical attention.
WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR ABOUT INFLUENZA
If your child develops a very high fever, if she has a seizure, or if you notice any changes in her level of consciousness or mental function, seek medical advice immediately. These may be signs that she is developing encephalitis.
A child with influenza who has a high fever is at risk for having a seizure.
If your child has a seizure, call your physician immediately.
If your child shows signs of increased respiratory distress, such as an increased respiratory rate, gasping, wheezing, nasal flaring, or a pale or bluish color to the skin, call your doctor. Your child may have developed pneumonia and needs medical attention.
The cornerstones of treatment for influenza are fever control, rest, and plenty of fluids. Acetaminophen (in Tylenol, Tempra, and other medications) or ibuprofen (Advil, Nuprin, and others) can tee used to reduce fever and alleviate achiness.
Note: In excessive amounts, acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Read package directions carefully so as not to exceed the proper dosage for your child's age and size. Ibuprofen can cause stomach upset in some children. To avoid this problem, try giving this medication with food.
Do not give aspirin to a child or
teenager with the flu. The combination of aspirin and viral infection is
associated with Reye's syndrome, a dangerous disease affecting the brain and
Because influenza is caused by a virus, antibiotics have no effectiveness and are not used. A drug containing amantadine hydrochloride (Symmetrel) is sometimes used in epidemics known to be caused by influenza type A. This drug is effective only if started in the first two days after the onset of symptoms, and it is not used in younger children.
If your child doesn't feel like eating, it's best not to force food. Suggest juices, applesauce, soups, and herbal teas.