By Leisha Andersen, MD, MPH - November 16, 2022
My children love youth sports–and we especially admire triple threat athletes. You know–like a basketball player who can shoot, dribble, and pass. The whole package.
Unfortunately, the triple threat we pediatricians are hearing about now isn’t admirable or exciting. The infectious triple threat refers to three diseases that are currently circulating in the US:
(2) RSV, and
(3) influenza (or flu)
The infectious triple threat is taking over our communities. These diseases can each occur separately–but unfortunately a person can also get more than one triple threat infection at the same time. By now, you’re probably familiar with COVID-19 and RSV. But what about the flu?
The flu, or influenza, is a viral infection caused by one of 2 organisms: either influenza A or influenza B. There are many subtypes of influenza A and B, so people may also refer to flu with names such as H1N1 or H3N2. [Pro tip: People frequently shorten the word influenza to “flu”, but keep in mind that the “flu” caused by influenza is different from the “stomach flu” that primarily causes abdominal problems such as vomiting and diarrhea.]
During a typical year, the flu infects 20-30% of healthy children and leads to hospitalization of up to 20,000 children under age 5.
The highest risk of severe flu infection occurs in:
children under age 5
people with underlying medical conditions
people who are not vaccinated for flu
The flu spreads through droplets that move through the air after an infected person coughs or sneezes. Droplets can travel up to 6 feet through the air before falling to the ground. Droplets can also infect the surfaces they land on and get passed from person to person that way.
Flu leads to respiratory (nose, throat, and lungs) symptoms and systemic (all over the body) symptoms. Severe complications can include pneumonia, worsening of asthma, myocarditis (heart inflammation), and even death. Common symptoms of the flu include:
sudden fever and chills
stuffy or runny nose
Flu rates were very low during the pandemic. Now that we’re out and about again, here are a few tips to try to avoid the flu this winter:
Avoid being around sick people (to the best of your ability)
Wash your hands frequently
Clean surfaces regularly if they may be infected by influenza droplets
Teach your kids to cover their mouth properly if they need to cough or sneeze
Stay at home when you are sick
Get a flu shot to reduce your chances of flu infection
(The vaccine doesn’t prevent all cases of influenza, but it offers protection against severe, life-threatening disease. In fact, a 2022 study showed the flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of severe life-threatening influenza by 75%.)
If you or your child becomes sick with flu symptoms:
Provide supportive care–encourage drinking lots of fluids and resting
Ask your healthcare provider about whether an antiviral could help (within 24 hours of the start of the flu symptoms)
Remind your entire family to keep practicing good hand washing
Remind the sick person to keep covering their coughs and sneezes
Seek medical care if the ill person has underlying health problems (such as asthma) or if symptoms are severe (including labored breathing, extreme fatigue, decreased urine output, inconsolable irritability, or symptoms that aren’t getting better)
No one wants their child to be sidelined with the flu. Wishing you a season of good health!
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