The Height of the Season: Flu Myths vs. Facts

Monday, December 15, 2014 10:46 AM comments (0)

flu seasonWorried about catching the flu this season? There are many things you can do to prevent the spread of the flu—washing your hands regularly, getting adequate sleep, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine—but one of the best is to make sure you get vaccinated. 

Kenneth Fox, MD, Pediatrician at NorthShore, addresses some of the pervasive myths surrounding the flu and the flu shot to give you your best shot for dodging the bug this season:

Myth: I got the flu shot and got the flu right away.
Fact: The flu shot is not 100 percent effective but it is effective. The vaccine reduces a person’s risk of developing significant symptoms by 60%.

Myth: The flu shot is effective immediately.
Fact: It takes a period of two weeks for the flu shot to take effect.

Myth: Only the elderly and young children are affected by the flu.
Fact: The elderly and children younger than two (as well as people with other underlying medical conditions such as asthma, heart disease, cerebral palsy, COPD, diabetes, kidney or liver disease) are at highest risk for flu complications. Those with compromised immune systems are also at especially high risk. But, the flu can strike anyone.  Some of the most serious cases can occur in people who were previously healthy.

Myth: People suffering from the flu should always go to the hospital.
Fact: Healthy people should take care of themselves at home: get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids and take Tylenol or Advil. Be watchful of other health issues though. If you are suffering from labored breathing or dehydration, you should go to the emergency room.

Myth: You should feed a cold and starve a fever.
Fact: Maintaining nutrition and staying hydrated is important when you are sick with the flu, so the answer is feed and feed.

Myth: Getting the flu shot once per season is always adequate.
Fact: One flu shot per season is adequate for almost everyone, with the exception of children under nine years old who should get two doses of flu vaccine (separated by  four weeks) during the first flu season they are immunized.

Myth: Flu and cold symptoms are the same.
Fact: Flu symptoms include a fever, cough, congestion, chills, fatigue, body aches, and often sore throat and headache. Cold symptoms are fewer in number, much milder and last just a few days.

Myth: The flu lasts 24 hours.
Fact: Children are typically ill 7-10 days but can shed the virus a few days before their symptoms begin and up to 2 weeks after the start of symptoms. Adults are typically ill 5-7 days but shed the virus 1 day before symptoms begin and usually up to 5 days after the start of symptoms. Some symptoms like fatigue may last for several weeks in kids and adults. 

Myth: There is no way to protect yourself from the flu.
Fact: The flu vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent the flu and to reduce the risk of its complications. Also, thorough and frequent hand washing, avoiding contact with contaminated surfaces, getting adequate sleep, nutrition and hydration all reduce a person’s flu risks. Being watchful of complications and seeing your doctor if serious symptoms arise (like difficulty breathing and dehydration) reduce your risks of harm. Staying home when ill with the flu and covering your mouth when coughing also reduces the risks of spread in the community. 

It’s not too late to get vaccinated this flu season. Have you had your flu shot?

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Sick Days: What Are Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease and Herpangina?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 12:56 PM comments (0)

hand foot and mouthHand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is a typically mild but highly contagious viral infection most common in children under seven years of age. The illness is characterized by mouth or throat pain (due to sores), fever and a rash (typically involving the hands, feet, buttocks, arms and legs). The infection is caused by enteroviruses—most often coxsackie virus A16—which are transmitted from person-to-person by oral contact with stool, saliva, fluid from skin lesions or respiratory fluids via coughs or sneezes. Herpangina, also caused by enteroviruses, is a cluster of symptoms characterized by fever and mouth lesions (but no rash).  These illnesses are particularly common in child-care settings because of the frequency of contact and germ sharing between children and inadequate handwashing—especially after diaper changes or toilet use. The viruses can also be transmitted by contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, like toys.

Outbreaks occur most often in summer and fall but can happen anytime, especially if your child is in daycare. Kenneth Fox, MD, Pediatrician at NorthShore, shares symptoms parents should watch for and outlines ways you can make your child more comfortable while the virus runs its course: 

Symptoms of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease:

  • Small, painful sores in the throat or mouth, including cheeks, tongue and gums 
  • These lesions cause pain and difficulty swallowing
  • Small blisters or red spots classically located on hands, soles of the feet and between fingers and toes 
  • Fever
  • Decreased energy and appetite
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Respiratory symptoms like congestion, cough and “pink eye” (conjunctivitis)

Symptoms of Herpangina:

  • Fever
  • Painful red sores in mouth/throat (as above)
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache

Fever and mouth/throat pain usually last three to five days. Other symptoms, like mouth sores and rash (with HFMD) can last up to seven to ten days. The virus is shed orally for one to three weeks and in stool for two to three months after infection. While there are no cures for HFMD or herpangina, there are things you can do to make your child more comfortable during those first few days, as well as reduce the risk for dehydration which can occur because of pain and difficulty swallowing. 

What can parents do?

Keep little ones hydrated. Try Pedialyte or Gatorade to keep their electrolytes up. Also popsicles, ice chips and other frozen treats can replenish fluids while also helping with pain. 

Reduce pain or fever. Use Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen but check age-appropriate dosages before administering. 

Make swallowing easier. Eliminate salty, spicy or acidic foods to avoid further irritating mouth sores. Consider providing a variety of soft foods, like yogurt, pudding and rice. And always rinse mouth after meals. 

While it is not always possible to prevent your child from contracting hand, foot and mouth disease, you can reduce his or her risk, and your own. Here are some ways to keep your kids healthy and prevent the spread of HFMD in your home:

  • Wash hands with soap and water for 15-30 seconds and dry with disposable towel after using the toilet, changing diapers; after touching another child, the floor or contaminated surfaces; before eating meals or snacks; after coming in from outdoor play; after sneezing, coughing or wiping nose or eyes 
  • Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces and toys more than once a day
  • Avoid or prevent close contact like kissing, hugging, sharing utensils or cups 

If your child does get hand, foot and mouth disease, watch for these signs of complications:

  • Dehydration (dry mouth, pale skin and nails, no tears or urine, lethargy)
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Chest pain
  • Stiff neck
  • Mental status changes (inconsolable crying, confusion, poor balance, difficulty walking)

Have questions about hand, foot and mouth disease or any other pediatric illness? NorthShore's new online community, The Parent 'Hood, has answers. Join today to connect with other parents in the community as well as our expert physicans.  Click here to start now

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