You've had those mornings when you just don't want to get out of your warm bed and go to school. Who hasn't? When that happens, you might check your throat to see if it's a bit sore, or feel your forehead to see if you're feverish. You might even groan a little. But when your mom comes in to get you up for breakfast, she looks you over and says, "You're not sick! Get up and get ready!" So you do.
Then there are those days when you wake up and know right away that you won't be going to school. You really are sick this time. Your skin is hot. Your bones and muscles ache. You have a cough that shakes your whole body. You feel awful.
When your mom comes in on a morning like that, she may check your temperature with a thermometer and say, "You're not going anywhere! Lie back down and cover up. I'm calling the doctor. I think you have the flu."
The flu is hitting our part of the country pretty hard right now. In fact, epidemiologists-- physicians who specialize in tracking illnesses--report widespread flu in 27 states and the District of Columbia in the last two weeks.
Influenza, called the flu for short, is caused by a virus that spreads from person to person through the air. It brings a fever that can soar pretty high--100 to 103 degrees in adults and even higher in children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A typical case begins with sudden chills and fever, a headache, body aches, a sore throat and a dry, hacking cough. It can also make you feel extremely tired.
The worst part of the illness lasts for three to four days, but the cough and tired-out feeling may hang on longer.
When you have the flu, it's important to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Your doctor shouldn't give you antibiotics, though, because they don't cure viruses.
School-age kids pass around a lot of germs, especially in the wintertime. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), respiratory viruses, including influenza, are the most common cause of absences from school during the winter months.
The AAP says your parents should keep you home from school if:
* you have a fever.
* you don't feel well enough to participate in class.
* you may be contagious to other children.
You can get a shot to help protect you against the flu, but it will only work for the current flu season. That's because influenza viruses continually change. You never really become immune to the flu.
Some doctors now think the best way to fight the flu is to immunize all children. (Right now, only 30 percent of children get flu shots.)
Paul Glezen, a flu expert and a professor of pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, is studying the idea of immunizing all kids under 5 against flu, and he's using nasal sprays instead of needles. Glezen's study, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, aims to determine whether immunizing children will reduce flu outbreaks, even among people who haven't had the vaccine.
If the method turns out to be effective and is approved for use all over the country, flu outbreaks may not be so bad in the future.
Tips for Parents
During this flu season, remember not to give children aspirin to treat symptoms. The American Lung Association suggests that for relief of pain and temperature of 102 degrees or higher, it is advisable to give acetaminophen instead. In children with the flu, aspirin can cause Reye's syndrome, a condition that can lead to brain and liver damage. Be sure to read the label on any over-the-counter remedies you purchase.
For You to Do
If you've had the flu, then you know that it makes you feel so tired that you really don't want to get out of bed to play. Even so, staying in bed can get pretty boring. If your head doesn't hurt too much, here are some ideas that will help you pass the time without turning on the TV:
* Set up a tray on your lap and put together a jigsaw puzzle.
* Use colored pencils to draw portraits of everyone in your family.
* Listen to a book on tape.
* Write postcards to your friends at school.
* Read a good book.
* Play solitaire.
* Play the card games War, Go Fish or Old Maid with a family member who's feeling okay.