Dubai: It’s an annual ritual parents are all too familiar with – as the weather changes, you invariably see your child starting to cough a lot more at night, or have a persistent runny nose.
But the time it takes a low-grade fever to turn into your whole family coming down with the flu can be short, if you don’t follow the necessary precautions. Gulf News Parenting spoke with pediatricians in the UAE to find out how parents can respond to the flu season, and what to do when your child falls ill.
1. Early signs of the flu? Don’t skip going to the doctor
Flu season in the UAE peaks from October to February and if you start seeing some symptoms, make sure you consult a doctor, even if the symptoms are mild. As this could be the start of any one of the different types of viral or bacterial infections during this season, a doctor can detect it early and treat it accordingly, Dr Shahira Ibrahim Abdelmagid, Specialist in Pediatrics at Zulekha Hospital, Dubai, told Gulf News.
“If it is a viral infection, it could be Influenza A or B or another virus, like the Adenovirus, which is a more aggressive or the Epstein–Barr virus, which is also very aggressive, but shows up with flu-like symptoms,” she said.
“If you see the symptoms, don’t just address it yourself, or wait for two to three days before seeing a doctor. Sometimes the symptoms come early and are very mild - just a runny nose, for example and you think it may be because the air-conditioning was set on high at home or they got it from the bus, perhaps. But if you just visit a doctor and take their advice, it will be helpful as the pediatrician will be able to pick up on the symptoms and prescribe the treatment accordingly,” she added.
It is also important to note that for infections like Influenza A, for example, the medication needs to be taken within the first 48 hours for it to be effective.
If you see the symptoms, don’t just address it yourself, or wait for two to three days before seeing a doctor. Sometimes the symptoms come early and are very mild - just a runny nose, for example and you think it may be because the air-conditioning was set on high at home or they got it from the bus, perhaps. But if you just visit a doctor and take their advice, it will be helpful as the pediatrician will be able to pick up on the symptoms and prescribe the treatment accordingly.
In these cases, doctors also ask close contacts to take anti-viral medication, as per medical guidelines, so you may also need to get a prescription, which can be possible only if you visit the doctor.
2. Have more than one child? They may not have the same infection
Another mistake parents make is expecting other children or family members in the house to have the same infection when they start showing symptoms a few days later.
“Sometimes you have two children and you expect that the two will have the same infection. But we do not consider that while one is going to the nursery, the other is going to the school,” Dr Shahira said.
So, while they may be in the same setting at home, they might have been exposed to different pathogens in their classroom or the bus.
3. Make sure your child is not mouth breathing
If your child struggles with breathing through their nose and breathes from their mouth instead, this can also affect their vulnerability to the flu.
“We have tiny hair in our nose, which filter the air from dust and bacteria. When children don’t breathe from their nose, or are unable to breathe from their nose because it is blocked, it can be a big issue because the air will not be filtered. Using saline drops can be helpful in these cases as it will help open up the nasal airways,” Dr Shahira said.
4. Don’t send your child to school
Another important step that parents should take is to not send children to school, to ensure the infection does not spread.
Dr. Karen Saldanha, Specialist Paediatrician from Aster Clinic, Business Bay, provided some easy to follow tips that parents should follow as soon as they see the first signs of infection.
“Let the child stay at home, take a good amount of rest, drink plenty of water and take the prescribed medicines. This prevents it from developing into a serious infection. When a child has the flu, you should not send them to the school and also should let the child take enough rest," she said.
If your child already has the flu, you would need to wait and consult a doctor before taking the flu vaccine. However, taking the vaccine ahead of time is a great way to protect yourself and your family against the virus.
“Children who are under the age of nine years and getting the flu vaccine for the first time need to take two doses, one month apart. After that, you would only need to get one dose each year,” Dr Saldanha said.
Let the child stay at home, take a good amount of rest, drink plenty of water and take the prescribed medicines. This prevents it from developing into a serious infection. When a child has the flu, you should not send them to the school and also should let the child take enough rest.
5. Hydration is critical
Dr Saldanha also said that parents may forget to focus on giving children water regularly, which is not recommended.
“I am seeing a lot of children with a sunken face, which is a sign of dehydration. A simple way to make sure your child is drinking enough water is to fill up their water bottle and ask them to finish it during the day,” she said.
How to care for a child down with the flu
Even after you have taken the child to the doctor and are giving him or her medicines as prescribed, the experience does not necessarily become easy for a parent. Children may have fever, a blocked nose and body pain.
“These days I am seeing a lot of patients having fever and abdominal pain, too. It is going to take at least five to seven days for them to get them back to normal,” Dr Saldanha said.
A good tip to follow for this period is to make sure you dress your child in layers that are easy to add or remove. This will help them feel comfortable as their body fights off the infection.
“Also, the airconditioning should be maintained at a comfortable temperature – usually around 24˚C,” Dr Saldanha said.
“Make them wash their hands and legs with soap and water before touching any item and make sure they take good rest,” she added.
• Wearing masks at home when the child has flu.
• Avoiding touching surfaces with infected hands.
• Avoid close contact.
• Don’t share personal items.
• Avoid touching eyes nose and mouth.
• Get the family members vaccinated with flu vaccine.
“These viruses and bacteria live in different places, like AC pipes. A lot of parents are working full time and a simple step they can take is looking for a home which has cross ventilation and at least half an hour of direct sunlight every day,” Dr Shahira said.
Doctors also spoke about the need to introduce children to a healthy, balanced diet as a lifestyle, and avoid junk food.
Broths that have been made with chicken or meat, with many healthy vegetables, like carrots, celery and potato, can be easy for children to eat every day, and particularly when they are ill. Fruits and nuts should also be a regular part of their daily intake. Make sure the main meals have a good balance of carbohydrates – like chapatti or pasta – along with proteins and vegetables to help them build a stronger immunity.
Dr Shahira also recommended parents to give children a mix of honey and lemon.
“If your child is happy eating sour things, add more lemon. If they prefer sweets, increase the honey. But make sure you give them this throughout the day. I always tell my patients, if I could write this on a prescription, I would. This is also helpful for grownups, who can have it with lukewarm water. For children, avoid adding the water as their tummies are small and will feel very full. You can give them a more concentrated version of this mix. It regenerates the cells of the mucosa [soft tissue that lines the body's respiratory and other systems] inside your mouth, back of your nose, the throat and all the way down to the lungs. This is the first line of defence when it comes to combatting an infection - the larynx regenerates all these cells and it acts as a barrier against the infections that you are exposed to,” Dr Shahira said.
Focus on sleep patterns
Children are more likely to suffer from an inverted sleep rhythm – with a tendency to sleep during the day and to be awake at night. This can specially occur during long summer breaks and has adverse effects on children’s overall wellbeing.
“When you have good sleep, good nutrition and good health, all of these come together to make you less vulnerable to diseases,” Dr Saldanha said.