Everywhere you look, in every form of media today there is some new and daily scary statistic or news about the H1N1 virus, otherwise known as the Swine Flu. Kids are coming home from preschools and daycares with explicit instructions from the CDC in case parents notice symptoms and are having to endure school or daycare closures that causes grave concern about what their children have been exposed to. Then because of privacy acts, parents are unable to get information that pinpoints whether or not there was a diagnosis or if their child was in contact with one who is infected.
The new availability of the H1N1 vaccine has many parents confused and rushing to vaccination centers out of fear and anxiety that their toddler will be next. Unfortunately, through all the mass confusion and media exposure a lot of misconceptions and hysteria has been created. So, what is a parent to do and just whom should they believe?
First of all, it is important to calm down. From October through March, there are increased risks to toddlers to catch all sorts of viruses and flu. The difference is that since Swine Flu is a relatively “new” strain there will likely be more people catching it, because immunity to it has not been developed. However, it is vital to understand that this isn’t the first time Swine Flu has caused worry. In 1976, there was an outbreak of Swine Flu and Henry Ford ordered millions of doses of vaccinations produced. The end result was that there were more complications from the vaccine than there were from the flu itself. Back then, only one person died.
Many of the deaths that you hear about today in relation to swine flu are not always as a result of the H1N1 virus alone. It seems that the media leaves out the facts that those patients were chronically ill or had a severely compromised immune system and complications that accompanied the flu. In fact, the CDC rarely investigates someone with Swine Flu alone and they recommend home care similar to the seasonal flu, quarantining the patient until fever is gone and rarely anything else. While Tamiflu is the drug of choice for toddlers with swine flu, it is rarely prescribed unless a serious complication arises.
Parents need to understand that the risk for swine flu is no greater than it is for things like seasonal flu or strep throat. Furthermore, if your child does get Swine Flu there are no more indications of care or treatment than there are for seasonal flu. There has been a lot of controversy about wearing masks in public to avoid infection, yet none of the masks available to the general public actually blocks viral particles. The best thing to do is avoid confined public and crowded places with your toddler and commit to hand washing as much as possible. Toddlers are old enough to learn to keep their hands and fingers out of their mouths and ensuring that they use sanitizer or preferably soap and hot water before eating is the best defense a parent has. If your preschool or daycare has an outbreak or confirmed case of H1N1 virus, you will be notified accordingly. Otherwise, there has probably just been an outbreak of illness, which in reality is normal during this time of year.
The hype and hysteria with swine flu is largely in part to the fact that it is a ‘new’ strain of flu for our generation. However, new flu viruses pop up all the time, which causes the constant changing and tweaking of the seasonal flu vaccine that is offered annually. Typically, parents whose children have been diagnosed with swine flu report that the affects were not as bad as once thought or reported in the media. Many swine flu victims actually recover more quickly, with fewer complications and have a shorter duration of symptoms than they do with seasonal flu or other common viruses.
While it is important to pay attention to what is going on around us and in our communities, there is no reason for parents to panic about swine flu. In fact, remaining clam and realizing that many of the rumors about swine flu are just that, will allow you to act quickly and calmly should your child show symptoms. Doctors have become adept at diagnosing flu in the office and procedures for suspected swine flu have finally become mainstreamed and efficient. The thing is that whether your child is diagnosed with it or not, your home care instructions will be exactly the same as they would for any other virus or flu. Lots of rest, TLC, good nourishment, intermittent doses of Advil and Tylenol for fever and paying attention to symptoms is all parents can do if there child is sick.
Whether you choose to have your child administered the nasal vaccine is clearly up to you. It warrants talking to your doctor and doing some research about the probability of your child needing it and then making a decision that will allow you to feel most prepared. Using sound judgment and realizing that often parents are only given half the information they really need by watching the news or reading the newspaper will allow you to feel a bit more comfortable and relaxed when it comes to worrying that your toddler will get ill this season. If you are truly overcome with fear invest in some good soap and have your child vaccinated by your pediatrician promptly.