Influenza, popularly known as “flu”, is a common viral infection in children. Many cities in India will see outbreaks of flu from May onwards, as it is a favourable season for the virus to spread. However, as India is a big country, the influenza season is different for different parts of the country.
Influenza infection in a 4-year old kid needs special mention, as kids below five are more prone to develop complications of influenza when compared to adults. Let’s take a look at what influenza is, how it spreads, and how some simple measures can prevent your kid from getting infected.
How does flu spread?
The commonest way by which the flu virus spreads is through contact with an infected person. When a person infected with the virus talks, coughs, or sneezes, he spreads the virus to his surroundings. The virus can enter people around the infected person through their nose, mouth, or eyes.
Infection can also spread by touching an object touched by the infected person. For instance, a child may touch an infected gadget or furniture and then touch his nose, mouth or eyes, and the virus from his hand then enters his body.
It would help to remember that a person who has caught a flu infection is able to spread the virus from 1 day prior to the onset of his symptoms to 5-7 days after getting sick. Some infected people can spread the virus for an even longer duration.
What are the common symptoms of influenza?
Like many other viral illnesses, kids infected with influenza virus develop fever, sore throat, cough and cold. He may complain of headache, body ache, or pain in the ears. An energetic kid suddenly appears tired and sick. His stomach may also get upset. He may have nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhoea. His appetite becomes poor and he may refuse food. Some kids also develop conjunctivitis (red eyes with discharge).
Most children recover within 1-2 weeks, but some of them develop complications like pneumonia, superadded bacterial infection, convulsions and other neurological complications. Such children need hospitalization and close monitoring during treatment.
How can you prevent your kid from getting flu?
- Develop the habit of washing hands frequently with soap and water, especially after travelling, and before consuming food or drink. This is the most effective flu preventing measure recognized by medical science till date.
- Do not take the kid in the vicinity of a sick person. Avoid going to crowded places during flu season.
- Stay in touch with your kid’s kindergarten teachers and staff. Make sure that any kid or staff at the kindergarten does not have flu symptoms.
- Does your kid touch his eyes or nose frequently? Does he put anything into his mouth? Tackle this habit carefully and seek a doctor’s opinion if there is a medical reason behind the habit.
- If someone in your family is sick with flu, make sure that all kids in the family avoid close contact with the sick during the period of virus spread. Disinfect the objects used by the sick using bleach or commercial disinfectants.
- The habit of covering nose and mouth with a tissue while coughing or sneezing are also important for preventing the spread of flu. The tissue must be trashed after use.
- Get your kid vaccinated against influenza infection, preferably well before the season. The doctor/paediatrician in your community is the best person to guide you about the ideal time for vaccination, the type of vaccine to be used and the pros and cons of vaccination.
- Some simple herbs like ginger, garlic, basil (tulsi) and turmeric have shown antiviral properties. Although their exact dose is yet to be identified, I don’t mind advising my little patients to eat a small piece of ginger or 5 leaves of basil daily during the flu season.
- Finally, if your child gets flu symptoms, consult your doctor immediately. Antivirals work best when they are started early during the illness. The child must stay at home (except for doctor visits) for at least 24 hours after the fever disappears.
The author is a Paediatric Allergist-Immunologist and a Music Therapy Researcher-Faculty.
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