Health Advice – The Common Cold and the Flu

Posted on June 6th, 2011
Categories: News

Dr Syd Nesbitt of Gertrude’s Garden Hospital, Nairobi advises parents on how to deal with the common cold and flu in children.



A guide For Parents- frequently asked questions


What is the flu?

The flu (influenza) is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs caused by influenza viruses. There are many different influenza viruses that are constantly changing. Influenza viruses are named for their type and subtype. Influenza viruses that commonly make people sick are influenza A H1N1 viruses, influenza A H3N2 viruses and influenza B viruses.


How serious is the flu?

Flu illness can vary from mild to severe. While the flu can be serious even in people who are otherwise healthy, it can be especially dangerous for young children and children of any age who have certain long term health conditions, including asthma and others.


How does flu spread?

Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose.


What are the symptoms of the flu? Symptoms of flu can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.


What is the difference between the common cold and the flu? Symptoms of common cold include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose. Body aches, headache, chills, fatigue are often absent but may be present.


How long can a sick person spread the flu to others? People with flu may be able to infect others by shedding virus from 1 day before getting sick to 5 to 7 days after. However, children and people with weakened immune systems can shed virus for longer, and might be still contagious past 5 to 7 days of being sick, especially if they still have symptoms.


How can I protect my child against flu? To protect against the flu, the first and most important thing you can do is to get a flu vaccine for yourself and your child. Vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months and older.  While everyone should get a flu vaccine each flu season, it’s especially important that young children and children with long term health conditions get vaccinated.


Also, caregivers of children with health conditions or children younger than 6 months old should get vaccinated. (Babies younger than 6 months are too young to be vaccinated themselves).


Another way to protect babies is to vaccinate pregnant women because research shows that this gives some protection to the baby both while the woman is pregnant and for a few months after the baby is born.


A new flu vaccine is made each year to protect against the three flu viruses that research indicates are most likely to cause illness during the next flu season. This season’s vaccine protects against the H1N1 virus that caused so much illness last season, an influenza A H3N2 virus, and an influenza B virus. This season’s flu vaccine is being made using the same safety and production methods and in the same dose as past flu vaccines. Over the years, millions of flu vaccines have been given internationally.

Flu vaccines have a very good safety record.


Is there medicine to treat the flu? Antiviral drugs can treat flu illness. They can make people feel better and get better sooner and may prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia, for example, that can lead to hospitalization and even death. These drugs are different from antibiotics, but they also need to be prescribed by a doctor. They work best when started during the first 2 days of illness. It’s very important that antiviral drugs be used early to treat flu in people who are very sick (for example people who are in the hospital) or people who are at greater risk of having serious flu complications. Other people with flu illness may also benefit from taking antiviral drugs. These drugs can be given to children and pregnant women.


What if my child seems very sick? Even children who have always been healthy before or had the flu before can get a severe case of flu. Call for emergency care or take your child to a doctor right away if your child of any age has any of the warning or emergency signs below:


  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish or gray skin colour
  • Not drinking enough fluids (not going to the bathroom or making as much urine as they normally do)
    • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held

• Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

• Has other conditions (like heart or lung disease, diabetes, or asthma) and develops flu symptoms, including a fever and/or cough.


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