From coast to coast, many hospital emergency rooms are teeming with people suffering from flu or flu-like symptoms, as experts warn this could be one of the worst flu seasons in recent memory. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the flu and flu-like illnesses are widespread, now reaching most states; the outbreak is described as “high” in 26 states. The vast majority of these cases are from the influenza A H3N2 virus, which has been associated with a higher than normal number of hospitalizations and deaths among young children and senior citizens over the age of 65.
For parents sending their children to school during flu season, it may feel like you’re playing a game of Russian roulette with your child’s health. After all, children are one of the groups that have a high rate of influenza infection. And with so many students in close contact throughout the school day, touching dirty doorknobs, sharing desks, and eating together at lunch time, it’s the ideal environment for an infectious illness to spread.
Many parents may not realize that the flu and a cold are not the same thing. They are caused by different viruses, and while they are both respiratory illnesses with a few similar symptoms, a cold is much milder, which can have serious complications.
Typical flu symptoms include:
- fever and/or chills
- sore throat
- muscle aches
- In some cases, symptoms can include vomiting and diarrhea, but this is more likely to occur in children than grown-ups.
The flu ordinarily runs its course in a few days to a couple of weeks. But parents may not know that complications from the flu can land their child in the hospital, and in some cases, it can be fatal. Five-year-old Caroline Miller was one of the lucky ones; she survived, but her recovery from flu complications took several months.
Short of keeping your child in a bubble, the best way to protect your children – and yourself – is to get a flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a “Take 3” approach to fending off the flu – vaccination, healthy habits, and taking anti-viral drugs if prescribed by your doctor. Another resource for parents is Families Fighting Flu. This group has partnered with the CDC in its “Keep Flu Out of School” program to help raise awareness about the burden of influenza in schools. This helpful website and associated resources highlight ways to help schools minimize the potential for students to contract – or spread – illness this season.
If, despite your best efforts, your child does contract the flu, the CDC even offers useful advice to help you take care of your ailing student, and explains when it’s okay to send your child back to school.