Texas Children's Hospital specialists say proactive approach best defense against flu season


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HOUSTON As Texas Children's Hospital braces for the upcoming flu season, parents are urged to schedule immunizations for at-risk youngsters and seek early treatment when symptoms are present.

"There is no reason to believe that the upcoming flu season will not be just as significant as those of the past three to four years," said Dr. Ralph D. Feigin, physician-in-chief of Texas Children's Hospital and professor and chairman of the department of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.

"It's easy to take the flu for granted; however, it is a global public health threat a major cause of illness and death," added Dr. Gail Demmler, director of diagnostic virology at Texas Children's Hospital and professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. "Flu is predictably unpredictable. We must constantly be vigilant."

The flu -- formally known as "influenza" -- is transmitted through contact with an infected person, through air droplets or contaminated items.

The virus produces a febrile respiratory tract illness that can lead to a primary viral pneumonia, which can be severe enough to result in hospitalization or require the use of a ventilator to breathe.

"In addition, some individuals can get a secondary bacterial infection such as an earache, bacterial pneumonia, or bloodstream infection (septicemia)," Feigin said.

Classic flu symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, frequently with chills; headache, malaise, muscle pain and a dry, hacking cough.

"After the initial symptoms, the child may develop a sore throat, congestion and a runny nose," Feigin said. "The cough can become more prominent and occasionally the eyes can get red. Some children will complain of abdominal pain and nausea."

Parents may be tempted to rush children with flu symptoms to the hospital; however, such action is recommended only in selected circumstances.

Dr. Joan Shook, chief of emergency medicine at Texas Children's Hospital, advises parents to call their pediatrician to determine if home measures can provide relief.

"A visit to the emergency center is warranted if a child has an altered mental status; shows signs of dehydration, such as sunken eyes or failure to urinate; exhibits a rapidly-evolving, bruise-like rash; has a stiff neck or stops breathing," said Shook, who also is a professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.

A flu diagnosis may be confirmed by a simple rapid influenza test or a culture using nose or throat secretions in the doctor's office.

"There is no reason to suffer in silence," Demmler said. "If the flu is diagnosed early, antiviral therapy can be given to shorten the course and severity of the illness."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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