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Swine Flu Prevention: Tips for Parents

WebMD talks to pediatricians for answers to common questions parents have about swine flu.

In situations like this, sometimes mass hysteria sets in and people overreact. What can be done about this?

"Just be aware of what’s going on in your area. You are always going to get some people who will become hysterical, withdraw their kids from school," Bocchini says. "But that is not necessary at this point. Follow recommendations of public health authorities. This is where leadership is very important. Leaders should let people know that this is serious, but not to overreact, and do what they should do, based on public health recommendations."

What if your child gets sick? What are symptoms of swine flu in children?

"Influenza is very different from the common cold. Classically, with influenza, children have sudden onset of significant fever with respiratory symptoms. High fever, chills. Older children will complain of headache, scratchy sore throat, and muscle aches. Children will develop a nasal congestion and cough."

Is swine flu easier to detect in young children and teens?

"Yes," says Bocchini. "An infant can’t describe his symptoms and may have more nonspecific symptoms. If they have a fever, we want to see them."

Can my pediatrician tell me for sure whether my child has H1N1 swine flu?

Not right away. There are rapid tests that can identify type A flu in about 30 minutes. But these rapid tests can't tell H1N1 swine flu from seasonal H1N1 flu or from seasonal H3N2 flu.  And the test is not very sensitive. That means a negative test does not mean a child does not have the flu. For this reason, many doctors chose not to offer the rapid test.

Lab tests can identify H1N1 swine flu, but not in time to get a definitive diagnosis in time to begin antiviral treatment. Health departments are no longer testing specimens unless they come from people with serious flu illness, although some private labs can do the tests.

Is flu more dangerous for very young children?

"Yes. Children under 2 have a higher risk of complications. Seasonal influenza is associated with a significant risk of hospitalization in children 2 and under. Children under 2 have a similar hospitalization rate similar to adults over 65," he says.

Are some children more at risk of getting very sick?

"Yes. Children who have an underlying disorder, including asthma, diabetes, another metabolic disease, children with chronic kidney disease, sickle cell disease."

What about the seasonal flu shot? Can it protect you from swine flu?

For the 2010-2011 flu season, the regular flu vaccine will contain the 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine (as well as vaccine against the older H3N2 type A and type B flu bugs).  The regular seasonal flu shot protects against seasonal flu. Kids up to age 9 need two shots or sniffs of vaccine, given four weeks apart, if they've never had a flu shot before. The CDC recommends that all persons aged 6 months or older should get a flu vaccination every year.

WebMD senior writer Daniel J. DeNoon contributed to this report.

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Reviewed on August 10, 2010

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