Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Flu 2015: Notes From the Trenches

Six-year-old Beth is on an immunosuppressant drug for her arthritis, so I follow flu seasons closely. I keep her out of church classes and AWANA about half the time (when I'm not teaching), if the flu shot is not a good match to the prevailing virus. This year, 90% of sufferers are getting a more severe strain--one not included in the season's vaccine.

Flu activity went to widespread levels in most states shortly after Christmas. Every year there's an epidemic, so don't panic after reading the suddenly frequent news stories about flu 2015. The very young and very old, and the immuno-compromised, die from flu every year, and this year is no exception.

Paul, age 11, is on his third day of severe flu, with his fever once going as high as 105.6 degrees. I panicked somewhat as I haven't seen temps that high, but I got it down to 103 degrees within 30 minutes with full-body cold towels changed frequently, starting with the head and feet (and ibuprofen). Don't assume you need to see a doctor just because there's a high fever. Pay more attention to symptoms than fevers, but take the child's temperature often.

Here's what I've learned:

~ Be prepared. Stock up on Gatorade in a couple flavors and chill it when someone gets sick. It tastes awful at room temperature. Choose 100% juices that everyone likes and keep them untouched in the pantry. Buy crackers, Cheerios, and other bland foods. At first sign of illness, bake a chicken so you can prepare chicken noodle soup--a big pot with leftovers. Bone broth made at home is very healthy. Make a casserole big enough for leftovers to feed those who are still well, and in case you get sick. Buy fever reducers in bulk because it may go through the whole family. Each person will consume a lot of medicine during a five-day illness. Buy OTC medicines that will help with secondary infections--in case of sinus infections, ear infections, urinary-tract infections, etc. Severe flu makes secondary infections more likely.

~ The virus can't survive at 103 degrees, and that's why our bodies spike high fevers. That said, don't assume in the absence of fever that it can't be flu. Not everyone gets a fever with influenza.

~ Pick a sick room and keep sick children confined. The more who fall ill, the worse off Mom will be when she gets it, due to the middle of the night care required. I care for Paul with him on the couch and me over him but not in the field of his coughs. I wash my hands each time I give him care, and I use disinfectant on anything he touches. The virus is spread through respiratory droplets in the air or on surfaces. Cough germs travel about a meter and don't usually linger in the air long, but I've seen different stats regarding this.

~ High fevers (102 degrees +) cause rapid breathing. Don't mistake this for a pneumonia sign. I did that once and Beth was given a chest x-ray she didn't really need. Chest x-rays given between the ages of 10 and early adulthood are one risk factor for breast cancer. If you take a child in, there are likely to be unnecessary tests so the doctors don't miss anything and get sued. Wait for the fever to go down a degree, and then reevaluate the breathing. Children starting out healthy don't usually get pneumonia with flu, but it can happen. Look at the chest--a sucked-in look between the ribs indicates some respiratory distress and should be evaluated. Flaring nostrils is also a distress sign, but a lesser one. I usually give my older son his inhaler when I see the flaring nostrils accompanied by a constant cough.

~ The incubation period is 2 to 4 days, with 2 days being average. We are contagious 1 to 2 days before we become ill. Children can be contagious 10 days, or longer if they are immunocompromised.

~ If you catch it within 24 to 48 hours, you can get an anti-viral medicine from your doctor that will shorten the flu by 1 to 2 days.

~ Keep asthma under control so you're ready if the flu hits. Asthma can potentially be a risk factor for a more severe illness.

~ Paul had a sore throat the first day and slowed down just a little. The second day he could move around somewhat, and the sore throat was somewhat better, but the fever began. The third day seems to be the worst. He's very weak and running a constant temperature, and isn't getting up unless he has to. He should start turning the corner on day 4 or 5, according to my phone conversation with the pediatrician. Most people are well within 3 to 7 days, with fatigue and cough lingering longer.

~ You've probably read that fevers about 106 degrees can cause brain damage, but keep in mind that our bodies don't generally spike fevers during illnesses that are higher than about 105 to 105.5. The Lord knew what he was doing when he created our immune systems. If you panic and try to get fevers back to near normal, you're handicapping the immune system's response to the virus.

~ The chills can be severe with flu, but don't over do it with sweatshirts and blankets, as that will spike fevers higher than you want. A fever of about 103 degrees is a good thing for the circulating virus this year, but children younger than 5 years old need more attention and caution with higher fevers.

~ I find ibuprofen to be better than Tylenol for lowering fevers, but that may only be true in our house. You can piggyback the two medicines, but wait 3 hours after ibuprofen to give the Tylenol. Give ibuprofen every 6 hours. It's likely the medicines won't lower the fever more than to about 102 degrees, and that's okay.

~ Younger children can vomit with the flu, but with older children and adults it's individual. (Peter got sick in the PM today and did vomit.) Ibuprofen on an empty stomach can cause nausea or minor vomiting. Paul vomited once when I had to give him ibuprofen at 3AM. I gave it right away again after he stopped, the second time without water. I believe the water was a mistake, given his empty stomach and the fever combined. I use liquid-form ibuprofen. The dissolving or chewable tablets are more expensive. (Water always makes nausea worse for me, during migraines.)

~ Give a few sips of Gatorade every ten minutes around the clock during the day, if nausea becomes an issue. I learned this trick when Mary once had a severe stomach virus.

~ Keep crackers around so children can avoid an empty stomach. If they can't keep ibuprofen down, ask about Zofran, which is an anti-nausea med used for cancer patients (dissolves on the tongue, then you swallow). It's also used when someone needs to keep medicine down. Zofran reacts with a lot of medicines, so ask your pharmacy before giving it to children other than the one it's prescribed for.

~ Peppermint candy or ginger tea will also ward off nausea. Have any candy canes left over?

~ My kids start looking skinny fast during severe illnesses, but they gain it back within two weeks of being well again, so don't get upset about a temporary gaunt-like physique.

~ I have no help as my aunt is in Florida for the winter. If help is available to you, enlist it early so you don't get severely ill from being a run-down nursemaid. Adults younger than 50 years old (and definitely younger than 65) are better helpers than the elderly, who are at risk for complications.

Has it hit your house this year? Let me know if you need a prayer partner.


Anonymous said...

Gosh no wonder you say 'notes from the trenches'. Hope you're all better soon.
Sandy x

Amber said...

Being sick is no fun, for anyone in the family.
Hope everyone recovers quickly!

WE do much of the same as my kiddos get sick often and with myself and my middle son having asthma, we try to keep things under control as much as possible.

The kids spent nearly 6 weeks fighting some nasty virus. One I thought I had escaped, but just after Halloween I ended up with the same thing and due to my asthma (I think) it lasted until about a week before Christmas.

This round of flu and viruses are quite rough this year. Prayers for you all and everyone that catches this yucky stuff!

Margie said...

We have missed this illness thus far this winter. In December, the flu was spreading through the schools like a wildfire, but illness seems to have slowed since the Christmas break. Praying for you all. stay warm as well. My kids are home today because of the cold temps!

Christine said...

So glad you escaped it, Margie, and that the local schools are out for now. That probably helps.

Beth Bullington said...

Those are some good ideas. Thankfully we have missed getting sick so far.