Wednesday, October 24, 2018

By Kate Cook, MD Medical Director of Pediatric Hospital Medicine and School Telehealth Norman Regional Health System

Do you hear that sound? It’s the sound of stores stocking their supply of tissues and hand sanitizer. It’s the sound of pediatric clinics bracing for the busy season. It’s the sound of winter approaching, and with that comes the dreaded flu and RSV seasons.

There are steps you can take to prepare your family for the seasonal wave of germs. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends vaccination against influenza for all kids age 6 months and older. The year 2017 marked the deadliest flu season on record with 179 pediatric deaths and thousands of hospitalizations. Around 80 percent of children who died from the flu last year had not received a flu vaccine, and half of those who died had no underlying health condition. We know that the flu vaccine doesn’t prevent all cases of the flu, but the vaccine and limiting exposure to the flu are our best lines of defense. No one expects themselves or their child to be the one to develop a severe, life-threatening case of the flu. What would add to that tragedy is the regret of knowing you could have done something that may have prevented it or decreased the severity of it.

Another major player in the winter germs that affect children is RSV, respiratory syncytial virus. This virus affects the smaller airways in the lungs. For older children and adults, RSV typically feels like a bad cold. For babies and children with other health conditions that affect their lungs, such as prematurity or asthma, RSV can cause wheezing, labored breathing, fever and lots of nasal congestion. There is no medicine to make RSV go away faster. Breathing treatments may temporarily make breathing a little more comfortable in some children, but they don’t shorten the course of illness or decrease the severity. Some children require hospitalization for RSV when they need extra oxygen or assistance in staying hydrated. Children who get RSV may have a cough that lasts for several weeks. Seek medical care if your child is having trouble breathing or difficulty taking in fluids. 

For both RSV and flu, prevention is the key. Teach children good hand hygiene with frequent washing and hand sanitizer. Minimize contact with other children if your child is showing signs of illness. Keep infants under 2 months old out of public as much as possible and for goodness sake, don’t let that stranger at the grocery store kiss or touch your baby!

May the winter be kind to us all!