While influenza can occur any time of the year in Thailand, peak activity is usually in the months of June-September. I am beginning to see more and more sick children with high fevers, terrible muscle aches and headaches, nausea and vomiting. Many are testing positive for influenza virus infection. Often people confuse the common cold with influenza, but I can tell you that they are not at all the same.
In children, influenza hits hard and fast, taking a healthy child down with high fevers in a matter of hours. It is also highly contagious; once one child in the household gets infected it is quite common for at least one or two other family member to become sick as well. This means multiple trips to the doctor, missed school days, and for Mom and Dad it often means missing work. If there are grandparents in the house, the children can spread this infection to them quite easily, sometimes with fatal consequences. Antibiotics do not treat influenza, which is a virus (and not a bacterium). Antiviral medications are available but are only moderately effective and only when taken very early in the course of the illness. Full recovery after a typical influenza illness can take up to two weeks.
In some cases, an influenza illness progresses to more serious complications like pneumonia. This can happen even with otherwise healthy children but it is more common in kids with underlying chronic illness like asthma or diabetes. Once pneumonia (a lung infection) sets in, the child usually requires hospitalization. In some cases, children do not survive this. The website www.familiesfightingflu.org is dedicated to preventing influenza in children through vaccination and families who have lost their children share their tragic and compelling stories here.
It is important to teach children to cover their mouths and noses when they sneeze or cough and for adults to model this behavior. Have a look at this amazing and entertaining short video to see how powerfully influenza virus can be sprayed across a room by a single sneeze. It is also essential that we wash our hands several times each day. Take the time to teach your children how to wash their hands properly by following these simple steps. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap. Rub your hands together to make a soap lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. Rinse your hands well under running water. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air-dry them.
Most important, young children need to be vaccinated each year against influenza. This is because the influenza virus is constantly changing and the vaccine provides protection for only up to one year. If your child is 9 years old or younger and has never received the influenza vaccine before, she will need to receive two injections about 28 days apart. After that, only one shot is needed each year. If your child is less than 6 months, she cannot be vaccinated against influenza. The best way to protect your baby is to make sure her parents and siblings are vaccinated. The influenza shot does not cause influenza. It is made from a split and killed virus so it is simply not possible to get influenza from the flu shot. The child’s arm may be sore for a day or so but that is far better than becoming sick from an influenza infection. Remember that no vaccine is 100% effective and sometimes people who have been vaccinated still get infected. It takes about 2 weeks after the immunization for the body’s immune system to be activated to protect against influenza infection so if you wait until a neighbor’s child or another student at school comes down with influenza before you decide to vaccinate, it will probably already be too late. It is much better to schedule an appointment now.