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Rujuta Gandhi


Oct 24 2023

Blog: Flu news from down under and what our children can expect this year. Local doctor shares insights.

It might sound a little peculiar but around this time of year doctors in the U.S. are assessing what’s happening in Australia.

Why? That country is wrapping up flu season. Its experience can tell us generally what we can expect as the U.S. enters flu season this month and endures it until May.

Regional Health Systems’ Medical Director Dr. Rujuta Gandhi, one of those who has been paying attention to Australia, has seen a country that recorded a high number of flu cases, an early spike in cases and a flu season that affected about 80 percent of children there.

That experience should underscore for parents here the importance of preparing their children for the season, Dr. Gandhi said. The encouraging news from down under is that the flu vaccine was effective, which means that a new strain is unlikely to emerge this year, she said.

A more important issue may be that many children fell off their vaccine schedules during the COVID-19 pandemic. A first and best step for parents who want to prevent their children from catching the flu would be to get the young people vaccinated against the flu, COVID and RSV, and make sure the parents and all adults who interact with the children also are vaccinated.

The flu is spread by droplets. To reduce the likelihood that children inhale those droplets, discourage them from touching their faces. Encourage them to wash their hands frequently. Adults can help by disinfecting high-touch surfaces. And, the more people wearing masks, the better.

“I know wearing masks has fallen out of favor because everyone’s tired of it after COVID,” Dr. Gandhi said. “But wearing a mask is still a good infection control measure that’s easy to do.”

She noted that the number of flu cases dropped drastically when mask wearing was prevalent in 2020 and 2021. In 2022, mask wearing declined. The number of flu cases jumped.

Most children make a full recovery from the flu in a matter of days, but a subset could develop pneumonia or dehydration. In those cases, or when the flu exacerbates asthma or cardiac issues, hospitalization might be necessary, Dr. Gandhi said.

While they don’t prevent the flu, she noted, vaccines lessen the condition’s severity.


Know the difference between flu, COVID and RSV

Another complication that parents should be aware of this flu season is the differences between flu, COVID and RSV symptoms. First, be aware that contracting one of those illnesses weakens the body’s immune system, making it susceptible to other viruses, Dr. Gandhi said.

Generally, the flu includes a fever, headache, and muscle aches, with respiratory difficulties. COVID presents itself with coughing and generally a higher fever than associated with the flu. The flu and COVID tend to strike quickly.

RSV typically causes a fever and wheezing, Dr. Gandhi said, but comes on a little slower than the other two.

If your child displays some of those symptoms, it’s important to monitor the fever and contact a physician to arrange an appointment, Dr. Gandhi said. Many health care offices can test for COVID and RSV with one swab.

Getting to the doctor quickly also allows for quicker administration of medications and other treatments that can be very effective, but only in the first 48 hours or so, Dr. Gandhi said. Rest, fluids, over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers also help speed recovery.

Another helpful tip, Dr. Gandhi noted, is to maintain a big picture perspective on flu season.

“There has been a lot of ‘anti’ the last couple years,” she said. “People are anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti all this stuff. Sometimes we get lost in the inconvenience of doing some of these things and forget to look at the bigger picture of why we’re doing the things that we’re doing and why we’re being asked to do them.

“Getting vaccinated, wearing masks, and doing other things takes care of you and takes care of your community,” she said. “And if your community is healthy, then you are healthy.”