Friday, September 4, 2009

Why Our Children are at Risk for the Swine Flu and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids

We keep hearing so much about the swine flu and how it’s mostly affecting children, so what can we do to protect our kids?

Unlike other flues, the N1H1 flu, or swine flu is hitting young people, generally under 24 years of age. I spoke with David Condoluci, DO, Chief of Infectious Diseases for Kennedy Health System in NJ, to find out why.

He explained that it’s young people who are getting this, not the elderly who we most commonly see in a given year. The people most vulnerable are those born after 1957 because the 1957 outbreak of influenza had some similarities in its immunity to the N1H1 flu we’re seeing today. People born before that time would have likely been exposed and have a little more immunity for this particular strain than those born after that. Subsequently that older group has had a lot of exposure through vaccinations and other strains of influenza, so there might be some minor background immunity that’s helping protect them to some extent. People born between 1957 and 1985 are at risk as well, but it seems that there is a little bit of immunity in that intermediate group. It’s the younger group that is basically virgin to this strain of the flu and that’s what it seems to be focusing on.

So, what can parents do to keep our kids safe? Dr. Condoluci believes that the best thing is to be protective with good hygiene. First of all, you want to stay away from places where there might be an opportunity to get infected, such as crowds, if the flu is in the area. Personal hygiene is very important. When you sneeze, you should sneeze on your sleeve and not on your hands. You should wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer, especially if you’re in a situation where you have a lot of contact with people. The safest place for you to be when the flu is out is in your house because you’re less likely to get it in that setting.

What if you suspect that your child has the N1H1flu? Dr. Condoluci says that if your infant under three months of age should get a fever or what resembles the flu, you should see your pediatrician immediately, because they’re so young and vulnerable at that time. For those who are older, it would depend upon the severity of the illness whether they should go to the emergency room or see their pediatrician. If the child has other ailments (as mentioned above,) parents should probably bring them to the emergency room for an evaluation, but most of the time your pediatrician and let them know the severity of the symptoms. Generally speaking, in most of the cases you’re going to have a sick child for a couple of days, but the child should get better. Most of the cases can be handled between the parent and the pediatrician. Beyond that, it’s good hand washing, fluids, Tylenol, and rest, as the main treatments for flu that is not severe.

Don’t panic. Mostly, it’s common sense. Wash your hands, teach your kids to sneeze in the crook of their elbows, and if it’s going around your neighborhood, avoid crowds during that time.

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