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Parent to Parent: Steer clear of the flu this year

By Betsy Flagler
John Rosemond
Betsy Flagler, who lives in Davidson, writes the nationally syndicated Parent to Parent column.

If your child tends to touch his mouth, nose and eyes and doesn’t wash his hands properly, he’s sending an open invitation to the flu.

The flu can knock out a whole family for days. Stay observant as the new flu season kicks in, and you may be able to recognize symptoms in your child before the bug takes a severe stronghold.

Some parents are finding that eyes that just don’t look right can provide clues about sickness. One mom whose 4-year-old daughter was among several in her classroom to get the flu this month says she first noticed that the child’s eyes “just looked different.” A runny nose soon followed. Within about 24 hours, the girl complained about being cold, then she woke up in the night with a fever and red cheeks. A swab at an urgent-care facility confirmed mom’s suspicions: the flu. The mom laments not getting her daughter vaccinated before the illness started spreading.

An increase in flu cases doesn’t typically happen until after Christmas, but flu levels are already on the rise across the country, according to a recent activity report by the Centers for Disease Control. But since flu activity doesn’t usually peak until February in the United States and can last as late as May, it’s still important to vaccinate now if you haven’t already, the CDC says.

This year, there’s no excuse not to get a flu vaccine, the CDC says, because the vaccine is readily available and there are several choices of where to get it. Kids can get either a shot or a nasal spray, and the vaccine protects against one strain from last year and two new strains.

All flu viruses cause a respiratory illness that can last a week or more. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, flu symptoms include: a sudden fever, usually above 101 degrees; chills and body shakes; headache; body aches; unusual fatigue; sore throat; dry, hacking cough and stuffy, runny nose.

Your child needs to stay home at least 24 hours after a fever is gone without the use of medication, except to seek medical care, to help prevent the spread of the flu.

Here are some tips from HealthyChildren.org, supported by the AAP, to try to prevent the spread of germs:

• Everyone in the family needs to be in a frequent hand-washing habit. Hand-washing is the most effective way to stay healthy.

• Remind kids to cough or sneeze into their elbows, not into their hands, and to keep their hands away from their faces.

• Never share toothbrushes, and replace them after illnesses.

• Wash doorknobs, toilet handles, countertops, light switches and toys using a disinfectant wipe or a cloth with soap and hot water.

Betsy Flagler is a mother and preschool teacher. Email her at p2ptips@att.net or call 704-236-9510.

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