Despite up to date flu shots, my children and I found ourselves holding our hair back praying to the porcelain gods last week. I wondered why this terrible flu had happened to us? This rhetorical question usually just lingers, but this time, I had a chance to get answers. I got the ear of Dr. Naline Lai, MD FyAAP and Julie Kardos, MD FAAP from Two Peds in a Pod and cornered them about why exactly my brood and I experienced a terrible flu this season, what we could have done to prevent it, and what’s to blame for it.
SM: Good morning, Doctors! Let me tell you what happened. My daughter got very sick, overheating and throwing up late on Sunday night. It lasted for about 24 hours before my husband and I caught it. My daughter had been to a sledding party Saturday, one day before and pre-school three days before.
My first question is – how long does an illness like this take to brew and who do I pin the blame on-sledding party or school?
TPP: Sorry to hear your family was hit hard – actually, it sounds like you all ended up with a stomach flu, which is not the same as THE FLU. A stomach bug, (medical term “viral gastroenteritis”) is often called stomach flu…hence the confusion. “THE FLU” causes mainly respiratory symptoms.
Stomach bugs are caused by viruses such as norovirus (the germ that plagues cruise ships as well as schools), rotavirus (babies get a vaccine to prevent this) or adenovirus. The only way to get the stomach bug is to put the germ into your stomach. Your kid’s sippy cups, the fork you use to eat out off of your plate with as well as your kid’s plate, and sticky fingers which touch the grocery cart all can become vehicles for the germ to enter the digestive tract.”
Symptoms usually occur one or two days after exposure, so the sledding party could have been the culprit. Ask yourself, did the sledders all share a snack or drinks? To prevent spread, wash hands after using the bathroom and before eating. Use disposable towels in the bathroom. Also better to have your own portion of a snack instead of dipping into a community bowl.
SM: Almost all of the kids who left the sledding party got sick too. Did they bring it or did we give it?
TPP: Tough to say- often, people are the most contagious the day before they have symptoms. It would take only one infected sledder who didn’t have symptoms to infect the whole party.
SM: My 20 month old son managed to avoid the illness, along with a scant few other children from the party. My son has never been sick. I gave him my DNA, the same as my daughter, how is he a better germ fighter than the rest of us? Is it because I drank a Diet Pepsi with my daughter before I knew I was pregnant?
TPP: HA! We’re not sure Diet Pepsi is to blame. Maybe your daughter puts her hands in her mouth more than your son does. Nail biters and thumb suckers create more opportunities to infect themselves with germs. Or maybe your son just has a stomach of steel. Everyone has a weak spot. Maybe your son will grow up to be more prone to headaches than his sister.
SM: Did we get sick because we are dirty people who don’t wash our hands enough?
TPP: Hand washing is very helpful, but these germs are extremely contagious and very hardy. Someone could have coughed into his hand and then high-fived your child. Depending on the germ and the surface it lands on, a germ can live for hours to days and sometimes months.
SM: We got flu shots. It hurt. Why did we still get sick? Was it still worth it?
TPP: The flu shot helps your body build up protection against THE FLU (influenza virus) not the stomach flu. Hence the reason you were not protected. THE FLU is a respiratory virus that causes fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, and SOMETIMES vomiting and diarrhea along with the respiratory symptoms. THE FLU hits you like a truck-—it comes on hard and suddenly, and can last about a week. Even though the flu shot does not protect against every variant (strain) of influenza, it usually protects against the most common variants circulating during a winter season. So far this 2013-2014 flu season in the US, 37 children have died of THE FLU. Yes, it was definitely worth getting the shot to prevent THE FLU.
SM: Will holding your breath after a person sneezes help us keep their germs away, because in my mind that seems foolproof?
TPP: Holding your breath BEFORE a person sneezes would be best. Unfortunately, there are some things we just can’t predict. But, if someone does sneeze in your face— go wash your face. If they sneeze on your hands— go wash your hands. If they sneeze on your clothing—go change!
SM: What can we do to avoid this horrible mess in the future? No more sledding parties or no more school?
TPP: Have fun, but don’t let your guard down. Keep track of your drinking cup and don’t sit your kid next to the child who looks green and pale on the couch. Be honest with yourself and others. If you know your child is throwing up one hour before the Super Bowl party, please don’t take him along so that he can dip his hands into everyone’s chips. At the very least call up the hosting family so that they can be forewarned and take proper precautions.”
Parties and school are fun, but in general avoiding overcrowding is a good idea. Day Care centers require two feet between sleeping mats to limit germ spread. The ball pit in some communal indoor play areas comes to mind as a place to avoid during high-illness season.
SM: Anything else we should know or do to stay healthy this flu season?
TPP: Do your best, but don’t be a germaphobe. Who knows? Your daughter may have contracted the germ in a grocery store. If you kept her away from the sledding party, she may have thrown up anyway. Then you wouldn’t have any wonderful memories of her laughing and enjoying a winter wonderland. Instead, you’d only have memories of vomiting.
The blog and podcast at www.twopedsinapod.com is a website with a goal to educate, encourage and entertain with general pediatric advice. However, they caution that their site in no way replaces the relationship with a healthcare provider and specific questions should be addressed with your children’s healthcare provider.