Cold and flu season: fact versus fiction

by Symptom Advice on December 31, 2011

I am often amazed at how many parents come into the clinic with misinformation about colds and the flu. Parents are inundated with caretaking advice, much of it from unreliable Internet sites and old wives’ tales.

As we head into the sickliest time of the year, I think it’s important to educate parents about flu “facts” versus “fiction.” For the purposes of this article, flu refers specifically to an illness caused by the influenza virus. Flu symptoms can sometimes be caused by other viruses. your doctor can test for the presence of influenza with a nasal swab.

The flu is most contagious during the fall and winter months.

FACT: Flu season typically begins in November and runs through March. it is contracted when tiny droplets enter the respiratory system from coughs or sneezes, or by touching something with the virus and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes.

Children who received the flu shot last year need to get the vaccine again this year.

FACT: A flu shot can reduce the chance of contracting the influenza virus, commonly known as the flu, by up to 70 percent and is the only proven method to prevent contracting the virus. the Centers for Disease Control recommends all children ages 6 months and older receive a flu shot this year, including those who were vaccinated last year. because babies younger than 6 months old cannot receive the vaccination, it is especially important for their caregivers to be vaccinated. Babies are at a higher risk of complications from the flu, including dehydration, pneumonia and death.

The flu vaccine can cause a child to contract the virus.

FICTION: the viruses used in the vaccination are inactivated and actually help fortify the immune system against the virus. there are different components of the flu and flu vaccine every year, so it is important to get your vaccination yearly.

The flu vaccine can cause a child to develop autism.

FICTION: The myth linking vaccinations to autism has been disproven, yet it rages on in online blogs and urban legend. the myth comes from a fraudulent study, which has been refuted by the medical community, conducted in Great Britain in the 1990s.

Catching the flu is the same thing as having a cold.

FICTION: cold and flu can share some of the same symptoms, including coughing, sore throat, vomiting and headaches. Parents should look for three distinctive symptoms to determine if a child has the flu: body aches, fatigue and fever, chills and dizziness.

“Preventative” over-the-counter products can help prevent the flu.

FICTION: Contrary to popular belief, over-the-counter products, such as Airborne or Zycam, do not prevent or cure the flu virus. Don’t waste your money on these products, but instead, invest in hand sanitizer and wet wipes to carry with you to stay clean and germ-free.

Vitamin C can prevent or cure the common cold and flu.

FICTION: the myth that vitamin C helps prevent or cure illness traces back to the time when scurvy outbreaks were common on ships. Scurvy is a disease resulting from a vitamin C deficiency, which was a frequent occurrence for sailors who were at sea for months at a time and did not have access to fresh produce. Once sailors returned to shore and consumed fruits rich in vitamin C, they would begin to feel much better. This lends to today’s misconception that high doses of vitamin C will somehow ward off cold or flu. there is no truth to this at all, unfortunately.

Chicken noodle soup can make a sick child feel better.

FACT: While the soup itself has no medicinal value, the warmth and comfort of chicken soup does have some recovery benefits. Providing children (and adults) with extra care and affection is a very important factor for relaxation and wellness. This “soft-touch component” is essential to helping them feel better and regain their strength. the warm broth also soothes a sore throat and promotes a runny nose, which helps the gross mucus drain out of the body instead of into it.

Finally, this flu facts-versus-fiction list ends with a note about children’s cold medicine. there is a lot of confusion concerning what, if any, cold medicines can be used to treat children.

The only over-the-counter medicines children under the age of 4 should be given are acetaminophen and ibuprofen to reduce fever and pain. always follow manufacturer guidelines regarding dosage and age restrictions. Giving medicine to a child who is too young may result in poisoning and a trip to the emergency room.

If a child is feverish and unable to stop crying, we recommend a quick call to your primary care pediatrician. If it is after normal business hours, visit Good Night Pediatrics and see our overnight pediatrician.

Dr. Sandy Kalm is a pediatrician with Good Night Pediatrics, the Valley’s only overnight pediatric urgent care. Good Night Pediatrics is open every night of the year, including holidays, from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. the clinic is located at 2651 N. Green Valley Parkway, Suite 101D in Henderson, 939-6800.

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