First off, in my mind, the goal this winter for your children, and your family, and your community isn’t perfect attendance at school or work. In fact, I’d suggest schools and families and principals who currently celebrate and reward perfect attendance may provide a disservice, especially when having a flu season like we are. The goal isn’t presentee-ism — the goal is thoughtful living. Staying home when ill, staying away from those who are vulnerable when you have cold symptoms (infants, pregnant moms, elderly), and taking care of yourself is a service to YOU but also to us all.
It may be hard to know when your child is having a run-of-the-mill “cold” and when they are having flu. So err on the side of caution — your child has a cough/cold/runny nose/sneezing/fever? Keep them home, please during this widespread flu! More on how to help decide what is going on (flu versus cold) in the CDC chart included below.
Doing my best to continue sharing what I’ve learned about this year’s flu season. Both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Washington State Department of Health are reporting most recent data (info has been updated as of Friday afternoon February 2, 2018) that flu rates rose again last week in the most recent data collected. Here’s the CDC data for the most recent week:
- WA Department of Health: 132 people have died of the flu this season in the state
- 53 children have died in the U.S. (1 in WA State). 17 children died last week alone.
- Every part of continental U.S. has “widespread” flu activity
- In the last couple weeks, more than 7% of all people coming into clinics and emergency departments had an influenza-like illness. That’s the highest level of activity since the deadly swine flu pandemic nearly 10 years ago.
- The CDC says this season’s epidemic is on track to rival the 2014-15 flu season and hasn’t yet peaked as of Feb 2nd. Kristen Nordlund a CDC spokesperson said Feb 2nd, “We have not hit our peak yet, unfortunately, it’s not going down yet. Really the bottom line is there is still likely many more weeks to go [in this flu season activity].” Back in 2014-2015, the CDC estimates 34 million Americans got the flu. More than 700,000 were hospitalized. About 56,000 died. Influenza is a serious illness.
Is It Influenza Or “A Cold?”
The CDC has a great chart to help decipher between the common cold and influenza. Sometimes you’ll never know what is in your house and body (!) unless you go in and get tested to identify the virus of cause. But in general, influenza causes more abrupt onset of illness. You’re fine and then, BAMMO. Influenza often causes severe “cold” symptoms, high fever, runny nose, cough, congestion and can lead to things like pneumonia, ear infections, long-lasting fever, dehydration, etc. Young children are at higher risk for more serious disease (and hospitalization) than older children, so parents should check in with their physician if they are concerned about their infant or toddler’s infection when flu is peaking.
Most of the time children just look crummy when they get flu: tired, clingy, feverish, coughing, and lack energy. If this comes on suddenly or parents worry about dehydration, rapid breathing, high fever or lethargy, they should call their child’s health care team. Abrupt symptom onset, fever, aches, chills, fatigue, cough and headache are common. So are muscle aches, especially in the lower legs. I often tell families that influenza makes people feel so bad that patients will complain their hair hurts or even their skin…
Lastly I will say…it is of course NOT too late to get the vaccine! In addition to avoiding exposures, and staying home when ill so you don’t share germs, you can layer protection with the flu vaccine. We want all children to have the benefit of protection from the vaccine, especially as influenza season peaks. Often we continue to recommend flu vaccine well into May. Call you doctor’s office, go to your local pharmacy and use the CDC’s Vaccine Finder to find the vaccine available in your zip code. Remember if you have a baby that they will need two doses (separated by 28 days or more) and if your child is under age 9 years and they have never had a flu vaccines before, they’ll need 2 doses this year, too!