What an unusual winter we’ve had. With the warm temperatures and lack of snow, it has barely felt like winter at all. We all got lulled into a false sense that winter illness may skip a year too. Unfortunately, Influenza had a different plan. This month, we have started to see a significant number of children with high fever, cough, body aches and runny nose in the office. The tests don’t lie; many of these kids have Influenza.
Influenza is often just called “the flu” which can be confusing since that term is sometimes used to describe a viral stomach bug that causes a lot of vomiting and diarrhea. Influenza doesn’t cause the stomach flu, it causes a bad respiratory illness with cough and fever as dominant symptoms. The flu vaccine given every year helps prevent the respiratory flu, but not the stomach flu.
Influenza typically hits here in the late winter so the timing is about right, maybe 2 to 3 weeks later than usual. But since I’d already pulled out my spring and summer clothes, it felt odd to see such sick children.
Influenza makes you very sick. You look like you’ve been hit by a truck and feel that way too. The fever lasts for 2-5 days and can get very high (over 104). Cough is a huge feature of the illness, which make it difficult to sleep. Appetite is virtually non-existent and a runny nose is common. Some people will have a few episodes of vomiting or diarrhea too, but not at the relentless pace of a stomach bug.
Differentiating Influenza from other winter viruses can be tricky and an in-office test can be done if your provider is considering using Tamiflu to treat the infection. Tamiflu is an anti-viral medication which is only useful if Influenza is the cause of the illness; even then, it is only useful if begun within the first 48 hours of the illness.
Not everyone needs Tamiflu, though, and since it can have significant side effects like abdominal pain, dizziness, and rarely hallucinations, I reserve it for those children at significant risk of complications from the illness itself. Healthy children without asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or immune system issues will only shorten the course of illness by a day or so, and it doesn’t seem warranted. Children who are more likely to get pneumonia or be very sick from the illness though should be offered Tamiflu if diagnosed early enough in the course of the illness.
Influenza lasts 1o days or so for adults and children alike and will lay you up in bed for sure. Next year, get the vaccine!