Help stop spread of colds and flu

It’s that time of year again. With cooler temperatures and more rainy days, we’re spending more time indoors, where germs that cause cold and flu are more likely to spread. If you have kids in school or daycare, where they may touch each other and share supplies, germs have an even easier time making the rounds.

Which is which?

Differentiating between a cold and flu may be difficult.

Cold symptoms are usually less severe and include runny nose, nasal congestion and sneezing. Your child may also have a sore throat, cough, headache or other symptoms. As many as 200 different viruses cause colds.

The flu is an infection of the nose, throat and lungs caused by the influenza virus.

See the accompanying chart to compare symptoms; this may help you determine which illness your child is suffering from.

What to do about it

Cold and flu both can be miserable for anyone and no parent likes to see his or her child in distress. Antibiotics do not work against the common cold or flu, since both are caused by viruses. In fact, antibiotics will not help your child get better any faster and will likely not prevent secondary bacterial infections like ear or sinus infection.

In most cases, home-care to relieve symptoms is all that’s needed. Extra fluids, a cool mist humidifier and rest should help your child feel better. Saline nasal drops delivered in a bulb syringe may help kids too young to blow their noses. You can also give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and body aches, but do not exceed the dosage recommended on the package. Children should not be given aspirin.

More help for flu

In the past, it was not particularly important to know if your child had a cold or the flu, since you would only treat the symptoms in either case. Today, however, some flu antiviral medications are available; they could shorten the duration of the illness by a few days.

Flu testing can be done in your doctor’s office via nasal swab, with results available in 15 minutes. If your child tests positive, your doctor may prescribe medication. These drugs are only effective if started within one to two days of the onset of symptoms, so it’s best to get in to see your doctor quickly if you suspect your child has the flu.

Finally, I advise all my patients to try to prevent colds and flu. Prevention is always preferable to treating these unwelcome illnesses. Here are the top 10 Tips for cold and flu prevention.

1 – For flu only: get a flu shot. The seasonal flu vaccine for 2010-11 includes swine flu, also known as H1N1, so only one shot is needed this year.

2 – Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

3 – Wash your hands thoroughly and often with soap and warm water.

4 – Use hand sanitizer between hand washings.

5 – Get adequate sleep.

6 – Stay hydrated.

7 – Don’t share drinking glasses or eating utensils.

8 – Try to avoid contact with sick people.

9 – Exercise.

10 – Eat nutritious food.

Pediatrician Brenda Van Fossen cares for children of all ages. She practices at Enumclaw Medical Center, part of Franciscan Medical Group.

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