Parents’ questions about the everlasting flu season of 2017-2018

by Dr. Kevin Benson, Board Certified in Pediatrics, ProCare Healthy Kids Clinic

As seen in the Odessa American’s Medical Matters:

http://www.oaoa.com/people/health/medical_matters/article_8d4cb80c-142c-11e8-89ec-0f7e6ed22b8c.html

There is endless information about the flu available to anyone with a smartphone. Rather than reprint information that is available elsewhere, I would like to answer a few questions that parents ask every day at my office.

Can you get the flu twice?

I chuckled seeing a report on one of those sensational nightly news shows that highlighted “This boy has had the flu TWICE!” I didn’t realize that any of the many patients I have seen with the flu twice this season could make national news. Unfortunately, catching one strain of the flu does not protect a person from catching one of the many other strains. Flu just doesn’t play fair … you can even have multiple strains at the same time! It is unlikely that you would get the same strain more than once though … if that makes you feel better.

The flu test was negative, does that mean my child doesn’t have the flu? 

Unfortunately, no. They still might have the flu. The flu test is very specific. So, if you have a positive, it is extremely accurate. However, the sensitivity of the test varies with the quality of the specimen (yes, we need boogers) and the length of illness. I have had families where every child is positive but one, but they are all symptomatic. A child can be diagnosed clinically with the flu.

Is Tamiflu (osteltamivir) good?  Is it bad?  What if they can’t finish it? 

This medication decreases the flu virus’ ability to reproduce. It does not “kill the flu” like an antibiotic might kill a bacteria. It is supposed to shorten the course of the illness. It is best started within the first 48 hours of illness.

Like every medication, Tamiflu (osteltamivir) has side effects. Most commonly, the side effects include stomach issues, but there are many more. I tell parents, if the side effects are worse than the illness, stop the medicine. The clear majority of us will still make it through the flu. Before the introduction of this medication, humans still survived the flu, and probably continue to.

Is it too late to get a flu vaccine?

Flu season, as a rule, is from October to April. So we give vaccines through March. Remember – the vaccine takes at least two weeks to be effective. This year’s effectiveness rate has been about 30 percent, which sounds low. However, remember that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 85 percent of children who have died this flu season were unvaccinated.