Ask Dr. Paul Library
Influenza is not the only cause of a cold in children
DEAR DR.PAUL: My seven-year-old son always gets sick during the flu season. He then gives his cold to the rest of the family. Is my son too young to receive the influenza vaccine? Will it prevent him from getting sick during the flu season? Thanks.
PEDIATRICIAN DR.PAUL Answers: You bring up several very important points. First, just like you, a lot of my patients tend to use the terms "a cold" and "the flu" as if they were the same thing.
The common cold, caused by any one of 250 viruses, causes cough, a stuffy nose or runny nose for a few days with or without fever. Many people wonder why can't we find a cure for the common cold. The reason is that it is very difficult to know exactly which virus is causing a particular cold. As well, even if we could track the particular virus, we do not have effective anti-viral medications for these viruses. So, unfortunately, the treatment is what we refer to as "symptomatic", that is to relieve symptoms. We recommend including drinking plenty of fluids, humidity, rest and, on occasion, acetaminophen for fever.
The "flu", caused by the Influenza virus, is a potentially more serious infection. The flu often begins like a cold, but there are usually associated fever, body aches and generally feeling quite lousy.
In older people or in children with underlying chronic medical conditions, Influenza infection can potentially be fatal, usually complicated by pneumonia. Each year a different strain or type of Influenza virus arrives, often from Asia. Fortunately, in most cases, we can now accurately predict which strain will arrive each season and prepare a vaccination to prevent infection.
Healthy children do not need to be vaccinated. However, children with severe asthma or other chronic medical conditions are at higher risk of developing complications. These children need to be vaccinated. The decision to vaccinate a child should be made with your physician.
It is important to realize that the flu vaccine protects only against the influenza virus and not against the other viruses that cause the common cold. So, getting the flu vaccine will not necessarily prevent you from getting a cold caused by other viruses. As most people have heard, new anti-viral medications are now available to treat influenza infections. As with most newly-released medications, they are not yet approved for use in children. The best approach for the cold an the flu in children is still common-sense = prevention.
Flu viruses are usually spread from person to person by nasal (respiratory) secretions. Being enclosed in one area with many children at school or at at day care - allows germs to spread easily. Washing ones hands frequently, especially after contact with the mouth or face area, has been shown to decrease the spread of viruses. It's a great idea to teach children this approach at an early age, so that it becomes a good preventative habit.