Influenza is a respiratory illness caused by influenza A or B viruses. Some people confuse illnesses with vomiting and diarrhea as influenza but these are gastrointestinal (stomach) illnesses. It can be difficult to tell the difference between influenza and a common cold virus at the beginning. This table from the CDC shows some of the similarities and difference.
Signs and symptoms of influenza can vary with age but often include fever, cough, runny nose, headache and muscle aches. Influenza is spread from person to person through respiratory secretions that are in the air from coughing, sneezing, and talking and from contaminated objects that have respiratory secretions on them and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
Most children with influenza will recover within one to two weeks though it may take six to eight for the cough to resolve. The fever will often last 3-5 days at the beginning of the illness, so usually means many missed days of school and work.
Complications from influenza include ear infections, pneumonia, asthma flares and other secondary bacterial infections. Children under the age of five years old and especially those less than 6 months of age are at an increased risk of death from influenza. Children with chronic medical conditions such as asthma and diabetes are also at an increased risk of death from influenza.
Antiviral medications are most effective if given within the first 48 hours of symptoms. Antiviral medication may be recommended if your child has a chronic illness or is less than 2 years of age. Rapid Influenza testing is available at Holland Pediatric Associates.
An annual influenza vaccine is the most effective way to prevent influenza. The Doctors and Nurse Practitioners at HPA recommend that all our patients receive an annual flu vaccine. Even if the vaccine is not a perfect match it should make the illness shorter and less severe than if not vaccinated at all. It is especially important for those households with an infant younger than 12 months to help prevent exposing the age group that is most vulnerable to influenza complications.
The HPA walk-in flu clinic is Saturday, November 3, from 8:00 – 11:30am.