With all the publicity surrounding swine flu, it is easy to become overwhelmed with conflicting advice. There’s no need to panic; so far, the swine flu doesn’t seem to be any more devastating than the seasonal flu. Seasonal flu is estimated to hospitalize 200,000 and kill 36,000 people in the US every year. The key to keeping the swine flu relatively benign is to take precautions. If your child becomes ill, you can follow these common-sense steps to manage the illness and prevent further spread.
- Decide whether to keep the child home. It’s ultimately up to you to make the judgment call as to whether your child has the common cold or the flu. Some people think that the difference between a cold and the flu is a fever, but many people who contracted the 2009 H1N1 flu (hereafter referred to by its more popular name, the swine flu) never had a fever. Ideally, you should keep your child home if there is any sneezing, coughing, sore throat, or any of the other symptoms of a common cold. Weigh out whether or not to take your child to a doctor, because most physicians aren’t testing for swine flu. However, be sure to watch for signs of infection and distress. If your child has a history of bronchial or asthmatic conditions, be sure to have your child on controller medication.
- The only way you can be reasonably sure your child doesn’t have the swine flu is if he or she got the complete swine flu vaccine, and their immune system has had a chance to protect itself. Children are protected from swine flu starting 10 days after their last required dose. Children over 10 only need one dose, but children under 10 need two, 21 days apart. So if it hasn’t been 10 days after your child’s last required dose, he or she might still have contracted the swine flu.
- Isolate your child until the symptoms subside. The most important thing is to make sure your child doesn’t spread the virus. Practice good hygiene, and teach the child to do the same, if they are old enough. Whether the child has the common cold, the seasonal flu, or the swine flu, it’s best to keep the virus contained. Even if the child doesn’t have the swine flu, his or her immune system will be kept busy by the cold or seasonal flu virus, making them more susceptible to the swine flu. That’s why it’s important to limit your child’s contact with people (including you and others in the household)–both for their protection, and that of everyone else.
- If you’re especially vulnerable to swine flu, like if you’re pregnant or have a compromised immune system, you should see if you can get someone else to take care of the child. Likewise, it’s especially important to keep the sick child as isolated as possible from young adults and other children (who seem to be particularly vulnerable to swine flu) in the household, or anyone else who is considered especially vulnerable. Even if you get vaccinated immediately, there are still about 10 days before the vaccine kicks in.
- Nurse the child to health. The following tips will help your child recover faster:
- Give fluids to make sure your child is properly hydrated. These can include tea, broth, diluted fruit juice, or water. Make sure there is nutritional value in some of the liquids
- Chicken soup is traditionally considered helpful. For the full benefit, use chicken stock, not “chicken flavor soup”.
- Allow your child to rest. Make him or her comfortable, and keep the room quiet enough to allow naps. If your child is awake, offer some calm activities he or she can do in bed, such as coloring or reading.
- Monitor your child’s temperature with a home thermometer. Young children have difficulties regulating body temperature, and may require intervention if the fever runs too high. If this happens, give mild fever reducers designed for children. This will help reduce fever and inflammation, and make your child more comfortable. Remember; do not give a child under the age of 19 aspirin or salicylate containing products as this may trigger Reye’s Syndrome.
- Get your child immediate medical attention if he or she exhibits any of the following:
- fast breathing or trouble breathing
- bluish or gray skin color
- not drinking enough fluids
- severe or persistent vomiting
- not waking up or interacting
- so irritable that he does not want to be held
- flulike symptoms that improve but then return with fever and a worse cough
- Get yourself immediate medical attention if you (or any of the adults in the house) exhibit any of the following:
- difficulty breathing or chest pain
- purple or blue discoloration of the lips
- vomiting and inability to keep liquids down
- signs of dehydration, such as feeling dizzy when standing or being unable to urinate
- Decide whether to get the child vaccinated. If the child hasn’t gotten vaccinated against either kind of flu yet, you’ll have to decide whether to do so once he or she has recovered. If you’re confident the child had the swine flu, it’ll be unnecessary to get them vaccinated because their immune system will already have developed its defenses against the virus. If you’re unsure what kind of virus your child had, however, check with a doctor about how to proceed. See also How to Get a Flu Shot
- You should get vaccinated, too, if you didn’t get sick. If you missed work to take care of the child, and you lucked out and didn’t catch a virus, then the last thing you want to do is catch one from someone else and end up having to stay home again.
- The symptoms of swine flu are very similar to those of seasonal flu. The danger in swine flu is in how quickly it can spread, and that it’s more likely than the seasonal flu to affect children, adolescents, and young adults who are more likely to gather in large groups (i.e. school).
- Fevers are part of the body’s natural immune response and help to kill off infections. Read the linked reference for more information about beneficial fevers. 
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