Flu Prevention and Treatment

Dr. Preeti Sharma informs parents on how to prevent the flu and what to do if their child gets the flu.
Flu Prevention and Treatment
Featured Speaker:
Preeti Sharma, MD
Preeti B. Sharma, M.D., is a board-certified pediatric pulmonologist who cares for young patients at Children’s Health℠. Dr. Sharma specializes in the expert care of children who suffer from conditions that affect the lungs, including asthma, cystic fibrosis, sleep-disordered breathing and bronchopulmonary dysplasia.

She earned her medical degree from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine in 2002. Afterward, she completed a pediatrics residency at Albert Einstein College of Medicine at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, New York. She completed a fellowship in Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital. In addition, she also completed a fellowship in medical ethics at the University of Chicago MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics.

Currently, Dr. Sharma serves as co-director of the Cystic Fibrosis Care Center at UT Southwestern and Children’s Health. She also is the co-director of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Therapeutics Development Center at UT Southwestern and Children’s Health. Dr. Sharma is the pediatric specialist for the Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia Center of Excellence at UT Southwestern.

Her dedication to patient care and professional excellence has resulted in numerous awards. From UT Southwestern, Dr. Sharma earned honors through the Mentorship Excellence in Developing Leaders Program and the Leadership Emerging in Academic Departments Program. She has been named Provider of the Month at Children’s Health and is recognized by D Magazine’s Best Doctors List and DFW Child’s list of Mom-Approved Doctors.

In addition to patient care, Dr. Sharma is active in research and medical education. She has published articles in various medical journals about a wide variety of topics, including obstructive sleep apnea, newborn screening for cystic fibrosis, nutrition in cystic fibrosis patients and hypoxemia in cystic fibrosis lung disease. She is also the Associate Director of the fellowship program in pediatric respiratory medicine at UT Southwestern.
Flu Prevention and Treatment

Alyne Ellis (Host):  You’re listening to Children’s Health Checkup where we answer parents’ most common questions about raising healthy and happy kids. I’m Alyne Ellis. Today our topic is the flu. How to hopefully prevent it and how to care for your child or teen if they get it. Our guest today is Dr. Preeti Sharma a Pediatric Pulmonologist at Children’s Health and an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Dr. Sharma, let’s start with why people shouldn’t underestimate the flu.

Preeti Sharma, MD (Guest):  Lot’s of people think that the flu is just one of those other viruses that you get in the winter and it causes a few days of fever and cough and maybe some chills. But unfortunately, the flu can have deadly and damaging effects. So, there are numerous deaths from the flu each year and so we can’t underestimate the impacts that influenza virus has on our bodies.

Host:  And who is the most vulnerable?

Dr. Sharma:  The elderly or anybody who has medical problems and young children are the most vulnerable to the negative effects of the flu. So, children who are too young to be vaccinated are particularly at risk. But also kids and school age children, those that have respiratory difficulties so asthma, cystic fibrosis, any pulmonary problems are at much higher risk of developing complications of influenza as well.

Host:  So, that leads us right into who is too young to get a flu shot?

Dr. Sharma:  So, babies under the age of six months are too young to get a flu shot. So, that’s why we recommend if you have a new baby at home; the entire family, anybody who comes into contact with the baby should get the flu vaccine. And then babies and children over age six months should be vaccinated annually.

Host:  Other than children under age 6 months, is there anyone who should not get the flu vaccine?

Dr. Sharma:  There may be patients who have a sensitivity to a component of the flu, that’s probably a great question to be answered by an individual’s physician or any part of their treatment team to see if there is an interaction or a difficulty with the flu vaccine. But otherwise, everybody should get it. Because it really does impact how you do with the flu and the transmission and spread of flu.

Host:  Can you get sick from the actual shot itself?

Dr. Sharma:  You can’t. So, there’s actually no live virus in the influenza vaccination. Most commonly, people have a little bit of discomfort at the site where they got the injection so their arm might feel a little bit sore. But you don’t get the flu from the flu vaccine. Unfortunately, it’s a common misconception that I got the flu vaccine and then I had runny nose and cough and that’s usually related to just this time of year, there are so many respiratory viral illnesses that go around and it’s probably a coincidence that you picked up a virus around the same time you got your flu vaccine. Because there isn’t actually any flu in the flu vaccine.

Host:  Actually having the vaccine means that if you get the flu, which you can get even if you’ve had the shot; it’s not going to be as serious.

Dr. Sharma:  Absolutely. So, you can still unfortunately get the flu even if you’ve had the flu vaccine, but it’s a much less severe case, usually lasting just a couple of days rather than a week or two. And also, we know that getting a flu vaccine protects you from sort of the most serious complications of the flu. So, the vast majority of people who die from the flu; actually were those who weren’t vaccinated. So, while the flu shot may not prevent you from getting the flu; it’s going to keep you better, less severe of a course of a flu and prevent some of the negative things that can happen like pneumonia or death.

Host:  So, what are the early signs and symptoms of the flu that parents should look out for?

Dr. Sharma:  So, usually the flu is associated with kind of a sudden onset of fevers, chills, fatigue, body aches. Anytime your kid has those kinds of symptoms, it’s wise to be evaluated by your primary care physician but usually there’s just mild runny nose, maybe a little sore throat, kind of the hallmark is that fever that kind of comes out of nowhere.

Host:  And if your child does get it; how can you help them feel better as they are trying to recover?

Dr. Sharma:  Some of the best stuff is just the supportive care. Making sure that they are hydrated, if it’s okay with your primary care doctor to do; Tylenol, ibuprofen to help with the fever and the discomfort. And it’s always wise to have them evaluated by their doctor to see if there is anything that they would suggest differently. There are medications that can be given that shorten the duration of influenza, but they are not right for everyone.

Host:  For example, that might be Tamiflu for children?  

Dr. Sharma:  Exactly. So, Tamiflu is available for pediatric patients and it really depends on sort of what the needs are. If your child has any special medical needs, they may benefit from it more. If they’ve been vaccinated and they are an otherwise healthy child, sometimes the recommendation is to kind of wait and see but that really depends on understanding that from somebody who knows your child’s medical history like your pediatrician.

Host:  What about any serious issues and complications? What should parents be watching for?

Dr. Sharma:  Things to watch out for with the flu are fevers that don’t go away even if you have given them Tylenol or Motrin. If their energy level is just severely decreased, more than you would expect. If they are coughing, short of breath, they aren’t able to keep down fluids, they are not making as much urine, they’re complaining of more pain than you’d expect. Those would be good times to have your child evaluated. Sometimes even if they seem to be improving, so you feel like okay, the worst is over, the fevers are getting better, they are looking better; and then all of the sudden something else happens. They start having fevers again, they start coughing more, complaining of chest pain, feeling short of breath; that may be a sign that they are experiencing a complication of the flu and they should absolutely be evaluated.

Host:  Is there a certain period of time the flu should last and then we just know okay, it should be over?

Dr. Sharma:  So, for most people, symptoms, the worst of the symptoms are kind of the first four days or so and then it starts to slowly get better. For people who have been vaccinated, they usually start to feel better day three or four and feel completely back to normal by about day seven. Sometimes it takes longer if you haven’t been vaccinated. But certainly, if it’s lasting more than about – the high fevers are lasting more than about four or five days, it’s really wise to be evaluated.

Host:  So, what other things can you do to up the chances that your child won’t get the flu?

Dr. Sharma:  Having them wash their hands really carefully which is hard to do with kids. But trying as best washing hands as often as possible. Using hand sanitizer when hand washing is not possible. Teaching them to cough and sneeze into their elbow. Those things that just limit the transmission of the virus are helpful. Sometimes things aren’t avoidable. Kids go to school. They go to childcare. They are exposed to lots of people. But getting the flu shot limits the transmissibility as well so, kind of having the whole family vaccinated is also helpful.

Host:  And when can we expect flu season to end?

Dr. Sharma:  So, we hope that flu season starts to taper off in the spring. So, we start seeing many fewer cases as we head into through the end of the school year April and May. Sometimes, it just depends on what strain of the flu and sort of how things are going. We will occasionally still see cases of the flu into the early part of the summer.

Host:  Thank you Dr. Sharma for your time. And thanks for listening to Children’s Health Checkup. Dr. Preeti Sharma is a Pediatric Pulmonologist at Children’s Health and an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. For more information please visit us at www.childrens.com/fighttheflu. I’m Alyne Ellis. If you found this podcast helpful, please rate, review or share this episode and please follow Children’s Health on your social channels. That’s all for this time. Please join us again soon.