Expert swine flu advice for parents

Little girl blowing her nose
Consultant paediatrician Professor Terence Stephenson tells TheSchoolRun the facts about swine flu.

The symptoms of swine influenza in children are similar to the symptoms of the usual winter flu - sudden onset of a high temperature, fatigue and aching muscles, headache, coughing, runny nose and sore throat. Some children with swine flu will also have vomiting and diarrhoea. On average, the illness lasts four days and in the vast majority of children it will be a mild illness from which they will make a full recovery.

How to avoid it

Reduce the chances of your child catching flu by keeping them away from other infected adults or children and washing your hands ten times a day as the virus can survive out of the body on surfaces.

A vaccine is now available and, initially, this will be offered to the most vulnerable children at risk from swine flu. All vaccines can have some side effects although most are very rare. Most reactions are local and mild, e.g. some pain, swelling or redness at the site of the injection.

What to do if your child is infected

If you think your child has swine flu, do not immediately take them to your GP or local hospital Emergency Department in case they infect people already weakened by other illnesses.

However, you should seek medical attention immediately if your child is aged under one, if you think they have an illness other than swine flu, or if they have serious symptoms, such as the following:

  • Your child is unresponsive, unconscious, floppy, limp, or impossible or difficult to wake.
  • They have a breathing problem that is so severe that they are unable to finish a sentence.
  • Their throat is closing off and they are unable to swallow saliva or they are drooling excessively.
  • They show a change in colour – blueness or greyness – particularly around the lips or mouth.
  • They have a fit (also called a seizure or convulsion).

Most children can be managed safely at home by their parents, though. Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids, especially if they have a high temperature, vomiting or diarrhoea. Give drinks ‘little and often’ – oral rehydration solutions are available from all pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription.

You can give paracetamol (Calpol) or ibuprofen (Junifen) as a pain reliever for aches, pains and to reduce temperature but aspirin should never be given to children under 16 years old.

You can also call the swine flu information line on 0800 1513513 for a Tamiflu prescription (unless your child is under the age of one, in which case they should be seen by a doctor). The antiviral drug Tamiflu works best if started within the first 48 hours of the illness. Side effects are uncommon and mild. The only common side-effect is vomiting.

Stopping the spread

If your child has flu, you can reduce the risk of spreading it by:

  • keeping them at home and away from school and other people
  • covering their nose and mouth when they’re coughing and sneezing and, if using tissues, making sure you dispose of them carefully. Clean your hands immediately after with soap and water or cleanse them with an alcohol-based hand rub

Other resources:

Swine Flu - What Parents Need to Know by Professor Stephenson is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, RRP £7.99. To buy a copy, visit www.jkp.com.