With the temperatures dropping, we tend to see an increase in illness. In case you’re wondering, as of Nov. 15, Children’s Health Dallas already has 56 positive flu cases, along with 70 positive cases of RSV. Children’s Health Plano has 9 confirmed flu cases and 58 confirmed RSV. For reference, just a few weeks earlier there were only 14 cases of flu and 78 cases of RSV total. Knowing that, we think sharing wellness tips is essential.
But before we get into how to avoid a cold or the flu, let’s look at when these viruses tend to show up and what they look like.
The flu typically shows up during the winter months. If exposed to the flu, you’ll typically see symptoms within one to four days. Symptoms include fever (typically high fever), chills, muscle and joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, sore throat, congestion, cough, headache and red eyes. Symptoms tend to last a few days to two weeks—longer than the common cold.
The common cold (or Rhinovirus) manifests from fall to spring (November to May, with a peak from January to March). Symptoms—which usually have a gradual onset—are typically less severe than the flu and include a sore throat, cough, runny nose, sneezing and a low fever. The common cold usually lasts 3–10 days.
RSV shows up during the winter months, but earlier than the flu (around October). In older children and adults, it’ll look like the common cold; however, it can cause severe disease in infants or children with a compromised immune system or with heart and lung conditions. RSV can cause respiratory difficulty, and symptoms include cough and congestion.
So what should you do to keep these ailments at bay? We spoke with experts at Cook Children’s in Fort Worth as well as experts at Children’s Health in Plano to give you some tips.
1. Get the Flu Vaccine
This has been a hot topic for some time now, but according to Dr. Mary Whitworth, medical director of infectious diseases at Cook Children’s, and the CDC, the flu vaccine is still the recommended practice for everyone 6 months of age and older. The CDC says most flu vaccines protect against four different flu viruses.
Dr. Jason Terk, a Cook Children’s pediatrician and a national expert on immunizations, agrees that the flu vaccine remains the best way to prevent catching the flu. “The great news about the vaccine is that even when it’s not always a perfect match for prevention, the flu vaccine can reduce the severity of the illness, even if you do catch the flu that season,” Terk says.
Dr. Carla Garcia Carreno, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Medical Center Plano, also highly suggests getting a flu vaccine. “This is particularly important as strains vary every year,” she says. “Ideally, [you should] receive the shot before the start of the season (November 1), but it’s [still] encouraged to receive it late in the season.”
It’s recommended that kids between the ages of 6 months and 8 years old should receive two doses, 28 days apart, if they did not receive one in previous flu seasons.
2. Wash Your Hands
Washing your hands may seem like a small thing, or something you do throughout the day without thinking about it, but it makes a big difference. “It’s important for people to take care of themselves and others to prevent the spread of the flu as much as possible,” Whitworth explains. Garcia Carreno also suggests using hand sanitizer if the kiddo’s hands aren’t soiled.
3. Practice Good Sneeze and Cough Etiquette
In other words, cover your mouth. Cook Children’s and Children’s Health stress that if you use tissues, be absolutely sure that you throw them away properly and wash your hands afterward. Garcia Carreno even suggests that if no tissues are available, use your sleeve.
In addition to practicing good sneeze and cough etiquette, avoid toughing your eyes, nose and mouth, and don’t share utensils (such as cups or silverware). These are prime ways for germs to spread.
Also, clean up after yourselves. Cook Children’s recommends cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects that may be contaminated.
4. If You’re Sick, Stay Home
This one is a biggie. Cook Children’s recommends that while sick, you should limit contact with others as much as possible. If you know someone who is sick, avoid close contact. Garcia Carreno and the CDC also stress that you should stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. In fact, the CDC says that your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of any fever-reducing medicine. Essentially, you should be positive that the fever is truly gone before going to back to work or sending your kids back to school.
5. If You’re Sick, Stay Away From Those With Suppressed Immune Systems
“It is particularly important to protect those too young to receive the vaccine and those with problems with the immune systems that can’t receive or will not respond to the vaccine,” Garcia Carreno says. Because the vaccine is of no use to them, little ones less than 6 months old and those with cancer or undergoing chemotherapy are at risk the most during this season. You can protect them by getting your flu shot, not visiting them if sick and by not kissing them on or near the face.
6. If You Think You or A Loved One Have the Flu, Call Your Doctor
If you or your children are experiencing symptoms that are worse than those mentioned above, you might need to call your doctor or make a trip to the hospital. Some of these harsher symptoms include difficulty breathing (call 911 if severe), inability to keep down fluids, signs of dehydration (dry lips, sunken eyes, decreased urination), changes in skin color, lethargy (call 911 if unresponsive), and new fever after being afebrile. Newborns (less than 28 days old) with a fever should always be seen by a health care professional.
Also, consider using the Children’s Health Virtual Visit App if you need to speak with a doctor.
Image courtesy of iStock.