H1N1: What Can Parents Do?
The 2009 H1N1 flu virus, referred to as swine flu during the initial breakout, can spread easily from person to person. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with H1N1 can pass the virus to others up to seven or more days after they get sick. And children, especially younger ones, might be contagious for even longer. What does this mean for you as a parent with a child in daycare or school?
You need to know the symptoms, which are similar to those of regular flu, including fever, cough, sore throat, headache and body aches, chills, and fatigue. In some cases, vomiting and diarrhea may also occur. Rather than display the typical symptoms, young children may experience difficulty breathing and be less active than normal.
Know How to Treat Illness
If your kids become ill and display typical flu-like symptoms, keep them at home. Make sure they get lots of rest and drink plenty of juice, water, and/or Pedialyte. Depending on your children's ages, your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter medicines in order to ease the discomfort of fever, sore throat, and muscle aches. Do not use aspirin.
If you know your children have come into contact with someone who has H1N1 flu, see your doctor and ask if any antiviral medicines for preventing illness are appropriate for them. And if your kids display one or more of the following symptoms, seek emergency medical care right away:
Fast breathing or trouble breathing
Bluish or gray skin color
Not drinking enough fluids
Not waking up or interacting
Being irritable and not wanting to be held
Persistent or severe vomiting
Flu symptoms that improve and later return with fever and worse cough
Teach Healthy Habits
Like the regular flu, the best way to handle H1N1 flu is to avoid getting sick in the first place. The flu shot is the best way to protect yourself and your children from seasonal flu, but that vaccine probably won't offer protection against H1N1. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved several 2009 H1N1 vaccines, and they are currently offered in some states for certain people. Ask your doctor if the 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine is available. If it is, your doctor can tell you if you and your children should receive the vaccine. People should receive this vaccine in addition to the regular flu shot, not instead of it.
Simple measures can also help. Frequent, proper hand washing is one of the easiest ways to prevent illness.
Show children how to properly wash their hands with warm soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If your kids are young and tend to rush, teach them to sing a short song, such as "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" or the "Happy Birthday" song, while washing their hands. It's a fun and effective way to make sure they wash long enough.
Teach children to cough or sneeze into a tissue, their elbow, or their upper arm, and to keep their hands away from their eyes, nose, and mouth. Also, discourage them from sharing cups, utensils, and bottles with others.
For more ideas on how you can help reinforce kids' hand-washing habits, visit The Scrub Club at www.scrubclub.org.