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Is It the Flu? Here’s What to Do

Influenza, or flu, is a virus we see primarily in winter. It’s classified as either A or B. Within those classifications, we see more specific strains; think H1N1. The sneaky little booger changes yearly by switching out proteins on the outside of the virus.

That’s why we keep getting it and getting it and getting it….bummer.

People get the flu from respiratory droplets (flying spit) and contaminated surfaces (doorknobs and the like). The incubation period is about 2 days, so it’s contagious and hits you quickly. 

(Not so) Fun fact: flu A is most contagious for the first 24 to 48 hours, but flu B is most contagious 24-48 before symptoms and then AGAIN 24 to 48 hours after.

What Are Flu Symptoms?

The flu is a respiratory virus. It’s not “the stomach flu.” The most common symptoms are fever, headache, body aches, and malaise (one of those medical words we use that means you feel like poo).

Younger kids tend to have higher fevers and more GI symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting. It’s not because they have the “stomach flu.” (We promise we’re not contradicting ourselves here.) Instead, their upset tummies are caused by all the snot draining into their bellies. In our experience, kids with the flu also have eye redness, and kids with Flu B tend to have sore throats.

In otherwise healthy kids, the symptoms get better in about a week, with or without medicine. But, like other viruses, the cough and malaise (“feeling like poo”) may last longer as your body bounces back. All of this is normal.

Testing and Treatment

The CDCInfectious Disease Society of America, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend testing for the flu in all patients with the right symptoms during the right season. We tend to recommend testing in patients who look “flu-y,” especially when we can’t find another problem to fix, such as an ear or chest infection.

The rapid molecular test we use at KidMed is a nose swab and gives results in about 15 minutes. It’s very sensitive and specific and eliminates the “human interpretation” component of rapid testing. That means if your child tests positive, yes, they have it. But, even with our better rapid-testing devices, your child may still have the flu if they test negative. That’s why a positive test isn’t necessary before starting antiviral medication.

 The point is that “The Flu” is not a clear-cut issue. Therefore, it’s essential to consider each child’s background and presentation when deciding who to test and what to do next.

 Like all other viruses, there is virtually nothing we can do to make the flu “go away.” So you’ll have to buckle down, treat the symptoms, and wait it out. 

Thankfully (or not so thankfully, depending on which side of the debate you’re on), there are antiviral medicines that can at least shorten the length of the flu. They can also, SOMETIMES, prevent illness after you’ve been exposed.

The most recognized flu antiviral is Tamiflu. These drugs work by preventing virus release from infected cells. The main side effects of Tamiflu are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Rarely, particularly in kids, Tamiflu can cause hallucinations, behavior changes, and severe skin reactions. Research shows that Tamiflu can reduce the length of illness by about 1-2 days as long as the antiviral is started within the first 48 hours of being sick. Doing so takes a 5-7 day illness and makes it last 3-5 days instead. But in those 3-5 days, you will still feel crummy. Therefore, it’s really important that you still treat your child’s symptoms.

In 2018, the FDA approved a new, one-dose antiviral medication called Xofluza. It is for treating uncomplicated acute influenza (flu) in patients 5 years of age and older who have been symptomatic for no more than 48 hours. Unfortunately, finding Xofluza at many pharmacies may be challenging, and insurance may not cover the cost. 

What Next?

  • Come to KidMed, and request testing, particularly if it’s within the first day or two of symptoms. Book ahead at one of our locations with Save Your Spot.
  • Talk to our pediatric providers to find the best plan for your kid. Get tips and tricks for treating flu symptoms (plenty of rest and drinking fluids to keep them from dehydrating).

For more information, visit (American Academy of Pediatrics).

For the current weekly influenza activity report for Virginia, visit the Virginia Department of Health.

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