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Published on April 10, 2020

On top of everything, flu is still in season

Pediatric Flu

The COVID-19 virus had bad timing. It arrived during one of the worst pediatric flu seasons on record.

To make things worse, influenza hospitalization rates nationwide for parents of young children (adults between 18 and 49) are the highest on record, surpassing rates during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

Understandably, every sore throat or sniffle has caused parents extra concern. As proof, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, testing for influenza-like illness continues to increase, even though the number of flu cases is declining. Here’s what parents need to know.

“Flu activity is declining on Cape Cod and the Islands, but it’s still present,” said Janelle Laudone, MD, chief of pediatrics at Cape Cod Hospital and a pediatric hospitalist.

Doctors are still watching for the flu and testing children for it, but parents need to phone their doctor’s office first, she advised.

“If your kids are showing any infectious symptoms - fever or cough - the best thing to do is call your pediatrician’s office,” she said.

“We don’t want patients spreading illness by walking into their physicians’ offices right now because social distancing—which means staying at home and staying away from other people as much as possible—is necessary to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Physician practices are doing a significant phone triage to determine who needs to be seen in an office, who needs to stay home, and who needs to go to the emergency department.”

Children can still be coming down with any number of viruses, be it the COVID-19 virus, the flu or other respiratory illnesses, Dr. Laudone said, adding that it’s often hard to tell one respiratory illness from another in terms of symptoms. That’s another reason to call your child’s doctor when you have questions, she said.

Flu is Seasonal

Dr. Laudone noted that, according to the MA Department of Public Health (MDPH), flu activity in Massachusetts remains ‘elevated,’ but it’s important to remember that is consistent with activity levels normally seen this time of year.

She added that both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and MDPH advise there is still time to get a flu shot to ensure you and your family members are protected.

The good news is flu is seasonal. Dr. Laudone said we can expect to see influenza cases continue to decrease.

According to the March 29, 2020, flu update, the number of lab-confirmed flu cases in MA peaked the week of February 8, 2020. The number of people testing positive for the flu decreased this week by 2.6 percent compared to last week, and the number of people hospitalized for the flu has decreased over the past three weeks.

Hygiene Helps

To protect yourself and prevent the spread of any virus, Dr. Laudone said parents and their children should follow the safe practices they’ve been hearing about so much in the news:

  • Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds. Use soap and water or alcohol-based hand cleaner.
  • Cover your sneeze or cough in the crook of your elbow or a disposable tissue, not with your hands.
  • Avoid close contact with other people (keep a six-foot distance).
  • Don’t touch your face (eyes, nose or mouth) if your hands aren’t clean.
  • Stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want to make a plug for getting the flu vaccine,” she said. “The flu’s going to come back next year and the year after that. I highly recommend everyone getting vaccinated against the flu each year. Technically, the CDC advises that providers continue to encourage and offer the flu vaccine as long as the flu is still circulating, and vaccine is available. Ideally, it is best to get the flu vaccine by the end of October each year so that you are protected when flu activity peaks."

Dealing with Anxiety

“These are very trying times,” said Dr. Laudone. “I want to encourage parents and everyone to reach out from a safe distance to family members, friends, and professional services for support. Many people are experiencing stress and anxiety caused by interruptions in their jobs and family life, and strong social support can help—even if it’s via telephone or internet. Don’t hesitate to call your healthcare provider, if you’re feeling too overwhelmed or stressed.”