The holidays are just around the corner and people will be on the move across the country to spread good cheer. But there is something else that they might be bringing with them, and it’s the flu. In this week’s On Call for All Kids, Rachel Dawkins, M.D., from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, explains flu symptoms in kids and the best ways for children and families to avoid the flu this season.
Why does flu season come each year?
Influenza, the virus that causes flu, actually has a season where it is most common — the wintertime with a peak in February — and we are in the time of year when flu spreads across the United States just like travelers who are going home for the holidays. The virus is spread when people cough or sneeze or when they touch a contaminated surface then touch their face.
Do we know if this year will be a bad season like last year and the year before?
It’s not clear yet. But we are definitely seeing many cases of the flu in our clinics and Emergency Center.
How do we know the difference between the flu and a cold?
Influenza is a virus much like the common cold. When you have the common cold you may have a runny nose or cough and feel crummy but still function OK. When you truly have influenza, you can’t or don’t want to get out of bed. Patients with the flu also will complain of body aches and fatigue and typically run fevers for multiple days. A lot of people will say they have a “stomach flu” or feel “flu-ish,” but this is not the same as actually having influenza.
Is flu more dangerous than the common cold?
Influenza is more likely to cause inflammation of the lungs than the common cold. Flu can lead to hospitalization in the very young and very old and those with chronic medical conditions like asthma. However, flu can also lead to death in previously healthy kids and this is the reason why we have a vaccine and why it is recommended for everyone over 6 months of age.
How can I prevent getting the flu?
Get vaccinated. It’s not too late. Kids 6 months and older can get the flu vaccine. Every day I hear that people don’t want to get the flu vaccine because they’ve never had the vaccine and never got the flu or that they are afraid that the flu vaccine causes the flu. Trust me when I tell you that you never want to get the flu — you feel awful. And if you have the flu vaccine and do get the flu, your illness will be less severe than if you did not have the vaccine.
On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital medical experts. Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Stories each Monday for the latest report.