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Flu Season 2020: What Parents Should Know

Posted on Jan 31, 2020

In a recent Facebook Live interview, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital pediatric infectious diseases physician Juan Dumois, M.D., answered questions about the 2019-2020 flu season.

Some of the main characteristics of this flu season include: the season started earlier than years past — and because of that — the number of cases are higher than this time last year, Influenza B has been the more prevalent strain and the Centers for Disease Control reports 54 influenza-associated pediatric deaths so far with four of those being in Florida (all were unvaccinated). Especially in kids, type B tends to be worse and that is why there is a lot of concern about this flu season potentially being worse than last year.

When does flu season typically take place? 

Flu season starts when we see the number of cases shoot up. In the Tampa Bay area, that tends to start in November and December. From December to January, we usually see the numbers go the highest (known as peak season) before they start decreasing in February.

Telltale signs and symptoms 

Flu symptoms can start off vague like many other viruses, but often someone with the flu will have:
Scratchy throat 
Muscle aches (sometimes the muscle aches can be in the neck and shoulders)

The flu makes you feel much sicker than a cold. If you or your child start feeling miserable, that’s a sign to go see the doctor. Ideally, you want to best tested at the doctor’s office within the first two days of symptoms because that is when the medicine for the flu works best.

What should parents look for in babies/toddlers who cannot talk yet? 

Clingier than usual 

If a child is taking really deep breaths where you can see the skin sucking in at that notch on the front of the neck and in between the ribs, that’s a definite sign that they need to be seen by a physician right away.

Why is it important to get vaccinated?

The flu shot tricks your immune system to think you got the flu and it then revs up to fight and provide protection. This helps so that if you actually get the flu virus, your immune system is primed to cut it short right away. Some people may get infected with the flu virus, but never have a symptom because their immune system wiped it before they could get sick. 

If you still get the flu after you received the vaccine, usually the illness will be less severe than if you hadn’t gotten the vaccine. You can receive a flu shot through April. It doesn’t have to be peak season for you to catch flu from somebody else.

What if we’ve had the flu, should we still get the flu shot?

Yes, the flu shot can still be beneficial in the people who have had the flu because there are several different strains that are being spread.

How are vaccines formulated?

Experts inform vaccine manufacturers on what type of strains to put in the vaccine by looking at information from flu outbreaks in other parts of the world, specifically countries in the Southern Hemisphere, because their winter is during our summer. In summertime, when we get hardly any flu, they’re in the midst of flu season. Experts believe their flu eventually makes its way to us in the Northern Hemisphere at the end of their flu season, which may start up the beginning of our flu season. Those predictions tend to be pretty good, but they’re not always 100 percent accurate. Sometimes the flu virus mutates in a way that hampers the effectiveness of the vaccine.

What else can we do to prevent the flu and other illness?

People often assume the most common way to catch the flu is from someone who coughs in your face or that someone coughing in the same room gives you the flu, but that’s not really the case. The most common way the flu is spread is by touching a germy surface that a flu-infected person just touched, like a doorknob or a tabletop. We may then get that on our hands, but it’s not until we touch our mouth or nose where it enters our body that we’re actually going to get sick with it. That’s what we can prevent.

Flu prevention tips: 

  • Be conscious of any habits of touching your face and don’t do it until you’ve had a chance to clean your hands,
  • Clean your hands with soap and water for 30 seconds or
  • ​Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer for at least 15 seconds.  

How long are we contagious for if we have the flu? 

Generally, people are most contagious while they have symptoms. You can be symptomatic for a week and a half and therefore contagious. As you start feeling better, you’ll have less flu virus in your saliva, but still some there.

There are three different medicines that we can use to treat the flu:  

Baloxavir (new drug on the market) 

What these drugs seem to do is help prevent the flu from getting as bad as it might have been without the medication. You are also less likely to end up in the hospital and die from the flu.

Why does the flu sometimes turn deadly? 

We don’t always know why, but in some people the flu seems to be more aggressive than perhaps it is for one of their family members who have the same strain of the flu. It can affect certain organs of the body, such as the brain and cause brain swelling or even cause heart damage. In other instances, it can cause a really bad pneumonia where a ventilator is necessary. In these cases, it’s much more likely to be fatal. 

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