Influenza, commonly called the flu, continues to be a concern across New York State.
Influenza is a contagious viral infection of the nose, throat and lungs that causes illness, hospital stays and deaths in the United States each year.
The flu can be very dangerous for children. Each year, about 20,000 children younger than five years old are hospitalized from flu complications, such as pneumonia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend everyone six months and older receive a flu vaccine each year. Bassett’s School-Based Health Center will continue to have the flu shot available. Flu shots are also available at other medical providers.
There are many different strains of the influenza virus and they are constantly changing. Each season’s flu vaccine will protect against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during that season. Flu vaccines are made using strict safety and production measures and have been given to millions in the United States with a very good safety record, the CDC says.
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when those infected with the virus cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might get the flu by touching something that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose.
The flu is different from a cold and usually comes on suddenly. Symptoms can include:
- Fever, however, some people with the flu will not have a fever
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
- Sometimes vomiting and diarrhea
Symptoms usually start one to four days after the virus enters the body. That means the flu can be passed on before those who have it even know they are sick.
Most adults can infect others before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children can pass on the virus for up to seven days after symptoms develop. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. However, those people can still spread the virus to others.
Washing hands with soap and water (for as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice) will help protect against many germs, especially after coughing or sneezing. Proper hand-washing should be promoted before meals, after recess or physical education and at other appropriate times.
Children should be taught to cover coughs and sneezes with tissues, or to cough into their sleeves, not their hands. Also to avoid spreading germs, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
If children contract the flu, they should stay home to rest and to avoid spreading the virus to other children or caregivers. They should stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine. A fever is defined as 100°F (37.8°C) or higher.
Treatment of the Flu
Parents of children who are five years of age and older and don’t have other health problems should consult their doctor as needed if their child gets the flu. Most important is to be sure the child gets plenty of rest and drinks enough fluids.
Parents of children younger than five years of age—and especially younger than two—or of any age with a long-term health condition, such as asthma or diabetes, are at risk for serious complications from the flu and should consult their doctors.
Antiviral drugs can be prescribed to treat the flu. They can make people feel better and return to health sooner. Medication also can prevent serious flu complications that could lead to hospitalization and even death.
Medication to treat the flu works best when started during the first two days of illness, especially for people who are at greater risk of having serious flu complications. These drugs can be given to children, but parents should talk with their doctors about whether particular flu medicines are appropriate for their children.
Emergency warning signs in children that indicate medical care is needed right away include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- People at High Risk for Complications
Most people who get the flu will have mild illness, will not need medical care or antiviral drugs, and will recover in less than two weeks. Some people, however, are more likely to get flu complications that can result in hospitalization and sometimes death, and they are:
- Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
- Adults 65 years of age and older
- Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum)
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- American Indians and Alaska Natives
- People who have medical conditions including:
- Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions (including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy [seizure disorders], stroke, intellectual disability, moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury).
- Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)
- Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
- Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
- Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)
- Kidney disorders
- Liver disorders
- Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
- Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids)
- People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
- People with extreme obesity (body mass index of 40 or more)
For more information on the flu, please visit the State Health Department’s influenza webpage.