The winter cold and flu season has officially started with RSV making its debut over the last week or so and even a case or two of influenza. RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and influenza can give anyone a wickedly bad cold with copious amounts of clear snot, really bad coughing jags, fever and headache. Infants under two, especially premies are at real risk of severe wheezing or pneumonia with RSV or influenza and may be sick enough to stop eating, vomit with coughing, and need hospitalization. Because RSV is a viral illness there is no antibiotic to help. There is a medication called Tamiflu that can be used with influenza but it only decreases the duration of the illness by about 24 hours and is generally only used in a high risk patient. Because RSV and influenza are so severe in young infants, many need to be hospitalized for IV fluids and oxygen.
So how can you tell if your child’s illness is just a routine winter cold or something more serious? Most winter colds will have sore throat, mild fever, runny nose and cough. So will RSV. So will influenza. It is all in the severity and degree. RSV and influenza will make you feel like you have been run over by a truck, they will make you feel like you are coughing your lung up, they give you such bad fevers that even with tylenol or motrin you feel like crap. If your child is eating so-so, will play and interact a bit when her fever is down and isn’t vomiting when coughing, your child most likely has a cold. If your child is listless or inconsolably cranky, has had a fever for more than 3 days, has stopped eating, or is vomiting with coughing your child needs to be seen.
The most effective way to minimize your child’s chances of getting influenza, getting the flu vaccine is your best bet. IT IS NOT TOO LATE! Good evidence shows that even into MID-JANUARY the vaccine will help. Short of that, good hand washing and changing your clothes when you come home from work or having your children change clothes after school or daycare will minimize spread of these viruses within your family.
Get the flu vaccine, wash your hands and change your clothes and each day will be your best!
Molly O’Shea, MD Birmingham Pediatrics + Wellness Center