What is the flu?

The flu (influenza) is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus. The infection can range from mild to severe and can even lead to hospitalization and death. There are many types of influenza viruses such as H3N2 and H1N1. These are not the same as the stomach flu viruses that cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Why is the flu so dangerous?

Thousands of people die from influenza every year and many more have serious complications such as pneumonia. About 20,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized each year from flu complications. Even healthy people can have severe symptoms. People at highest risk of developing flu complications include: young children, older adults, pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems and people with chronic illness such as asthma, heart disease and diabetes.

How do you catch the flu?

Someone with the flu can spread the virus to other people by coughing, sneezing and talking. You may also catch it by touching something with the virus on it - such as a doorknob, toy or telephone - and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

The symptoms of the flu usually come on suddenly and may include fever, cough, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, body aches, headaches, fatigue, chills and occasionally vomiting and diarrhea.

How long is the flu contagious?

Someone who has the flu can start spreading it to others one day before developing symptoms and can continue spreading it until one week after getting sick.

How do doctors in Kansas City diagnose the flu?

There are several different flu tests available. In our office we use a "rapid influenza test" which involves a quick swab of the child's nose and provides results within 10 minutes.

How do you treat the flu?

Children who have been diagnosed with the flu should rest and drink plenty of fluids. Although fever is not dangerous it can make your child uncomfortable, therefore it is important to minimize fever by dressing your child lightly, removing blankets, offering cool beverages or popsicles, giving them a lukewarm bath and using over-the-counter fever reducers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. (Do not give either of these medications if your child is under 2 months old. Do not give Ibuprofen if your child is under 6 months old.) While most children will recover with these measures, some children who are very ill or are at increased risk of severe illness may be given an antiviral medication. These medications work best when given in the first 2 days of the illness.

When should your child see the doctor?

Call our office anytime you are worried about your child's illness. Your child should be seen right away if any of these warning signs occur: breathing fast or difficulty breathing, decreased urination or dry mouth, not waking up or lethargic, irritable or extremely cranky, or blue or gray skin color. You should also make an appointment if your child appears to be improving but again develops fever or worsening cough as this could be a sign of a bacterial infection such as pneumonia or an ear infection.

Is the flu affecting people in Kansas City right now?

Most cases of influenza occur between October and May. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) collects information on flu activity across the United States year round and publishes this data on their website. To find out the current level of influenza activity in Kansas City, go to www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly.

How can you prevent the flu?

Everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated against the flu each year. Other preventative measures include washing your hands or using hand sanitizer, covering your cough or sneeze with your elbow or a tissue, avoiding touching your nose, mouth and eyes and avoiding crowds.

Who should get a flu shot?

Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu shot every year. Because infants less than 6 months old are too young to be vaccinated and because they are at higher risk for complications and death from the flu, all of their family members and caregivers should get vaccinated.

How many flu shots does your child need?

Your child should be vaccinated against the flu every year. Most children 6 months through 8 years will need to get 2 doses of the vaccine, with the second shot given 4 weeks after the first. Children who have received 2 doses of the vaccine in the past or who are 9 years and older usually only require one shot.

How can your child get a flu shot?

Yearly flu vaccination should begin in September or as soon as vaccine is available and continues throughout flu season or while supplies last. If you would like your child to receive the flu shot, please call our office to schedule an appointment. We have weekday and some Saturday appointments available. In most cases this appointment will be with a nurse. If you are a new patient, you may need to see the physician first.

Where can parents and caregivers get flu shots in Kansas City?

Adults who wish to be vaccinated against the flu should contact their primary care provider, the Jackson County or Kansas City Health Department or a local pharmacy.

What are the side effects of the flu vaccine?

There are 2 types of flu vaccine: the shot and the nasal spray. The side effects of the shot may include pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, low grade fever and body aches. The side effects of the nasal spray may include runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever, aches and vomiting. Serious problems such as allergic reactions rarely occur.

Is the flu shot safe?

Yes, flu shots have an excellent safety record. Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely gotten the flu vaccine and most do not experience any side effects. If side effects occur they are usually mild.