Is it the flu or a cold? And why to NOT give aspirin to kids/teens with the flu

Classic flu symptoms will effect up to 50% of people infected with the flu. Symptoms can generally last 2-3 days. They will rarely last longer than 5-7 days. The main symptoms include:

  • Temperature (~101-102 deg. F)
    • this usually comes on very suddenly (like within an hour or two you suddenly realize you have a temperature), whereas with a cold the fever is generally slower to onset.
  • muscle and body aches (these are not usually there with a simple ‘cold’)
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • dry cough
  • Bedridden- usually, you can’t get off the cough or out of bed because you feel so exhausted, miserable, and achy. You know, that ‘I can’t lift my head from the pillow’ feeling.
  • Eye pain/light sensitivity- may not occur, but if it does, it causes you to wince when someone turns the light on, and need sunglasses if you venture out doors.
  • Runny nose ( maybe)

What can I treat it with? 

  • GET TO THE DOCTOR within 48-72 hours of symptoms starting. I can’t repeat this enough. The sooner the better. As I mentioned in a previous post (here), there is antiviral medication that helps reduce the risk of serious flu illness or hospitalization. You need to start the drug within the 1st 48 hours to get the most out of it, but up to 72 hours after symptoms start can still give you benefit.
    • There is even dosing for babies for the antiviral drugs, too. So if you suspect the flu in your baby, get to a doctor right away.
  • Take something for the fever/headache to generally feel better.
    • Do NOT give aspirin to infants, children, or teenagers. There is a risk of developing Reyes Syndrome if aspirin is used in any of these age groups during certain viral illnesses. Reyes can result in a severe brain swelling, leading to vomiting, confusion, coma, severe mental disability, and potential death.
    • Acetaminophen is generally a good choice, if you haven’t been told you can’t take it. To protect your kidneys, take fluids with it. If your family traditional medicine is a shot of brandy (or any alcohol), DON’T! mixing alcohol and acetaminophen can severely damage your liver.
  • Hydrate, rest.
  • Stay away from other people.
    • The flu is spread through respiratory secretions- so when you cough you are sharing the bug. When you cough into your hand and shake someone’s hand, you are sharing the bug. Please don’t bring it to work or send your kids to school with it. Don’t shove the kids full of medicine and send them in to school.
  • See your doctor if the symptoms are worsening or serious, despite the antiviral treatment.

It’s just the flu! What’s the big deal?

  • Well- for many people it is just a miserable few days at home form work with no pay. Or missing school. But serious complications can happen, especially if you are older than 65, young, pregnancy, or have any lung issues ( like asthma or COPD), or heart issues, or immune compromise.
    • Generally,  less than 1 in 1000 people die from the flu each year. Generally, these are folks the high risk folks mentioned above. Years with the H3N2 virus (like this year), tend to have higher death rates ( ~3x higher).
      •  But in 2009, the pandemic outbreak of the H1N1 flu strain (sometimes nicknamed “swine flu”) caused serious illness in the younger, healthy population.
        • It’s estimated that 60 million Americans became ill from the H1N1 flu virus in 2011,
        • and 12,500 people died.
      • In the infamous “Spanish Flu” of 1918, and estimated 21 million people died worldwide
  • Pneumonia can be a complication of the flu.

Click here to see the status of flu in your state. The maps are updates every ~ 2 weeks or so.

To find out more detailed information on influenza, including symptoms and the history of epidemics and pandemics here

Stay well!

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