Flu season is here: how to prepare and when to take your child to the ER

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flu shot 1 Flu season is here: how to prepare and when to take your child to the ER
My baby boy getting his flu shot. Photo via Taylor Babington for Bham Now 

Flu season is upon us, Birmingham. Are you prepared? We spoke with Dr. Samuel Strachan, pediatric emergency medicine fellow at Children’s of Alabama/UAB, about symptoms to watch for, what to do if you think your child has the flu, and when it’s time (and NOT time) to go to the ER. 

When does flu season start? 

According to Dr. Strachan, Birmingham is already starting to see cases of the flu. Though the start of flu season depends on what area of the country you’re in, it really picks up in Birmingham at the end of October. 

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Dr. Samuel Strachan. Photo via Children’s of Alabama

What symptoms should parents look for?

In addition to typical cold symptoms like a runny nose, cough and fever, parents should pay attention to their child’s fluid intake. If your child isn’t drinking enough, it can cause serious complications. Also look for trouble breathing or difficulty staying awake.

“More complicated cases of the flu can have vomiting and dehydration,” said Strachan. 

How do you know if your child is getting enough fluids if they’re really young?

The short answer? Wet diapers. “Younger children should have at least three wet diapers a day,” said Strachan.

When should you take your child to the ER?

If your child is less than two months old and they have a fever greater than 100.4, you need to call your pediatrician immediately. Your child also needs to go to the emergency room.  

If your child is older, though, stay home. “Older children are more resistant to serious infections,” said Strachan. “On the first day of a fever in an older child, stay home, give him or her fever-reducing medication and call the doctor in the morning.”

Go to the ER only if your child is really not doing well, like having trouble drinking, acting very sleepy, or having difficulty breathing. You should also go if your child has chronic illnesses such as sickle cell disease or asthma.

How can you prevent the flu?

First and foremost, get a flu shot. Flu shots are becoming available right now. I took my baby the first day they were available at his pediatrician’s office this week, and it only took about 30 minutes. You can get a flu shot at your primary care provider’s office. Try to get there by Halloween (before the flu season really kicks into gear). 

baby flu shot Flu season is here: how to prepare and when to take your child to the ER
Waiting for the flu shot. We’re not risking the flu this year. Photo via Taylor Babington for Bham Now

 “[The flu shot] can greatly reduce your symptoms even if it doesn’t guarantee you don’t get the flu,” said Strachan. “It’ll feel more like a cold instead of something serious.” And it’s important to know that the flu shot DOES NOT give you the flu. 

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Ready for his flu shot. Photo via Taylor Babington for Bham Now 

Infants can get the flu shot at six months of age (they’ll get two rounds). It’s critical that children with chronic diseases like sickle cell or asthma get a flu shot every year.

“The thing about the flu is it’s a self-limited disease. If you’re greater than 2 years old or less than 55, it’s typically not that serious.”

Dr. Samuel Strachan, Children’s of Alabama

What should you do if your child gets the flu?

Make sure everyone in the home washes their hands. Try to separate kids who are sick and well. 

“If your kid looks well between fever episodes and they’re still drinking, they can stay home,” said Strachan. Even though schools have different guidelines on when kids can come back to school, keep your child at home until they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours.

What about Tamiflu?

Tamiflu can reduce length of symptoms if given within 72 hours of your child first starting to get sick, but it can have side effects. Whether or not your child needs Tamiflu is a shared decision between you and your doctor.

A child under the age of two is more likely to be prescribed Tamiflu, but if a child is otherwise drinking well and looking well they likely won’t get the drug. The flu just has to run its course. 

Getting to the ER at Children’s of Alabama

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Children’s of Alabama Emergency Department. Photo via Children’s of Alabama

The Children’s of Alabama ER is located at 1601 5th Ave. S. There’s free valet parking if you need it, but if you’re not in a rush you can park in one of the decks and have it validated on the way out so you don’t have to pay. 

Need to know

Your child will be seen by his or her triage level at the Children’s of Alabama ER. If your child has the flu but appears well with normal vital signs, they’ll triage at a lower level–meaning you may be in for a wait. That’s why it’s best to call your child’s primary care physician the first day of fever, instead of heading straight to the ER (unless your child is less than two months old). Getting an excuse from work or school is not a reason to go to the emergency room. 

The bottom line

Get the flu shot, wash your hands and keep sick children at home, Birmingham. Let’s stay healthy this flu season!

The contents of Bham Now are for informational purposes only. The content isn’t intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on Bham Now!


Taylor Babington
Taylor Babington
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