Itís that time of year again: flu season. Each year, millions of people hunker down in the fall to prepare for the annual onset of influenza outbreaks. With the season comes an onslaught of visits to, at best, pediatriciansí offices and, at worst, hospital emergency departments by worried parents and their ailing children. Now that you've got a newborn, you want to be prepared.
So how do you keep your new baby healthy this winter?
While you cannot inoculate your baby, there are steps you can take to keep him healthy during flu season Ė many of them common sense.
What is the flu?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the flu is a contagious respiratory ailment caused by a group of viruses known as influenza. It strikes an average of five to 20 percent of the U.S. population each year, causing symptoms that range from fever, headache, dry cough, sore throat, runny nose, and muscle aches to nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Complications associated with the illness include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions.
Young children, the elderly, and people with chronic health conditions are at particular risk for serious flu-related complications.
How do I avoid getting the flu?
The CDC recommends getting a flu shot as the number one way to avoid getting the flu. If possible, get a flu shot in October or November, although you can still be vaccinated into December.
Parents, siblings, and caretakers of young children should be vaccinated. The American Academy of Pediatrics revised its recommendation in 2006 to include flu shots for children as young as six months and up to age five years. The CDC also recommends that pregnant women be vaccinated. Studies suggest that maternal immunization may help prevent the flu in young infants.
While your newborn is too young to safely receive the vaccine, and whether you were or weren'tít vaccinated while pregnant, he canít catch the flu, if he does not come into contact with the virus.
Other simple preventatives include covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, washing your hands with soap and water Ė often, avoiding close contact with those who are sick, and keeping your baby out of crowded public places. The flu is spread through contact with the respiratory droplets of an infect person, primarily from coughing and sneezing, so be alert and act accordingly.
What to do if you or your baby get sick?
If you think you have the flu, minimize contact with your baby as much as possible. Drink plenty of fluids and rest. Take fever-reducing medications, as necessary, and contact your physician if your condition worsens. If your baby becomes ill, ensure that he continues to nurse often to prevent dehydration. Call your pediatrician immediately if your baby has trouble breathing, is not feeding adequately, seems less responsive than usual, or his rectal temperature rises above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
Influenza is a serious concern, especially for parents of newborns. But simple, common sense strategies can help you keep your baby healthy throughout the flu season.