To most parents, the beginning of the school term signals the start of the endless cycle of flu and cough. Children get infected and re-infected throughout the term, leaving parents desperate for a cure that can end the infections for good. Elizabeth Namazzi writes how parents can cope
When children return to school, parents cannot help but worry about flu and cough. In fact, many parents relate school to flu and cough simply because children do not stop coughing until the term ends.
As Dr. Kenneth Bagonza of AAR Health Services explains, flu and cough make rounds throughout the term because they are viral infections, whose only trigger is a congregation to thrive.
He explains that flu, which almost always leads to cough, is very common in children because they have reduced immunity compared to most adults.
Dealing with flu
Bagonza points out that the rule of thumbs when dealing with flu and cough is to attend to the child immediately. "Fortunately, you do not need drugs to remedy flu because viral infections are self-limiting; they have to run their full cycle before one gets well, so all you need to do is control the symptoms.
These, in children, include nasal congestion, vomiting, cough, high fever, sore throat, irritability, extreme tirednes, headache and body aches," Bagonza says. As the school term begins, he advises that you make home remedies your best friend if you are to manage flu and cough with ease.
Fortunately, the best home remedies are well known, so you cannot run out of options when the dreaded cycle begins. As you try the home remedies, Bagonza emphasises the need to treat children early.
"Early treatment is very important because sometimes flu and cough can develop into serious bacterial infections that need to be treated by a medical doctor," he warns.
Breaking the cycle
To most parents, the big question is how to break the endless cycle of flu and cough. Unfortunately, this is very difficult because where one is, the other is likely to follow. In children, the rate of infection and re-infection gets even worse because, like Bagonza says, flu is an airborne disease that thrives in communal settings.
Breaking the endless cycle of infection and re-infection, he says, calls for a high level of cooperation among parents and school authorities.
"Ideally, parents should not send their children to school when they have flu or cough. This would be the best option but it can only work if all parents are doing this; otherwise, doing it as an individual would not make much difference. If every parent left their sick child at home, the children at school would be safe and the cycle would be broken," he argues.
Flu vaccination can save your child's life
By Vision Reporter
Research findings released in October 2012 show that flu poses a fatal risk to children even in the absence of an underlying health condition. One study that analysed US paediatric influenza-associated deaths over an eight-year period found that 43% of the children who died of influenza had no record of underlying health conditions.
Infact, the study found, healthy children died faster than those with diseases like diabetes and asthma. The average age at the time of death was seven years.
"During the 2004-2012 influenza seasons, almost half the children who died had been previously healthy," said lead researcher Karen K. Wong.
Another study looked at the impact of the immunisation programmes in elementary schools in Los Angeles, US. Results showed lower infection rates among immunised children.
In one school where almost half of the students were vaccinated, there was evidence that the unvaccinated children also enjoyed some form of protection.
According to lead researcher Pia Pannaraj, "It is the school-aged children who spread the flu. They tend to be around other children, giving it to them and spreading it for longer periods of time. It seems like the best place to prevent community spread of influenza is actually at the school level."
Study results showed that 829 flu associated deaths occurred between August 1, 2004 and September 1, 2012. Of these, 793 children had a known medical history, while 341 had no recorded high-risk health conditions. More than half of the remaining cases were children with neurological disorders, while almost half suffered from pulmonary disease.
"Children with and without underlying medical conditions can die from influenza, and death can occur rapidly. Caregivers should be aware of early warning signs of severe influenza virus infection in children, including laboured breathing, decreased fluid intake or urination, drowsiness or a lack of interaction - and should seek medical attention for them quickly," Wong said.
According to Dr. Kenneth Bagonza of AAR Health Services, flu vaccination is available at any health centre/hospital where immunisation is done in Uganda.
"The severity of flu can be reduced through vaccination. Fortunately, flu vaccines are now part of the national immunisation package, so if you take your child for vaccination, you can get the flu vaccine," he said.
However, he emphasised the importance of treating the signs and symptoms of flu in children, since parents can manage flu symptoms at home. For instance, parents can stop high fevers and use home remedies to treat flu. However, Bagonza insists that parents should rush children to hospital if they suspect more serious infections, since flu can lead to infections like pneumonia because of the environment we live in.
Ask the expert: School health during the term
As children return to boarding school, parents with asthmatic, diabetic and HIV-positive children have to make special plans to safeguard their children's health. Elizabeth Namazzi asked Dr. Edward Ddumba, a senior consultant neurologist with Nsambya Hospital how parents can best protect their children.
QWhat are the earliest signs and symptoms of diabetes?
A Diabetes is a condition where there is inadequate insulin in the
body and accumulation of sugar in the blood. The child may have the following symptoms in any combination:
- Increased thirst and frequent urination.
- Extreme hunger.
-Unexplained weight loss or gain.
-Feeling tired all the time.
-Irritability or unusual behaviour.
-Yeast infection in the private parts of the girl child.
When should a parent suspect that a child has asthma?
-Frequent coughing spells which may occur during play, at night or while laughing.
-Loss of energy during the day.
-Tightness in the chest or chest pain.
-Whistling sound (wheeze) while breathing.
-Retractions of the chest from laboured breathing.
How should parents of HIV infected children deal with this?
They should consult their doctor or visit a health facility.
Some parents pack drugs for their children with instructions on how to use them in case of emergencies. Is this a safe practice for the affected children?
It is not safe to leave drugs with children because they can overdose themselves. The safe storage of drugs is better handled by the school nurse. The parents are advised to work with the school administration concerning the child's health, how medicines will be taken and how emergencies will be handled.
What should asthmatic and diabetic children in boarding schools do in case of an attack, especially at night?
Asthmatic children should know how to use an inhaler to relieve the symptoms as soon as they start to manifest. The dormitory matron should be available to help out in serious situations at night.
For diabetic children the biggest problem is low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) which results from administration of too much insulin. The child is taught how to recognise the symptoms of low blood sugar and take a sugary fluid or suck on a sweet when they occur. However, parents should note that these children are very delicate and the decision to put them in a day school should be considered to easily monitor their health.
What are the dos and don'ts for affected school children?
Parents should keep in touch with a medical practitioner who will advise as may be required. Parents should discuss the children's health with the school nurse and the children should inform the school nurse whenever they do not feel well. They should not take unsupervised medications.
Some children on ARVs fear to take their drugs because of stigma from their friends. How can they overcome this fear?
Children with HIV should be handled with the help of an expert in child counselling so that the negative impact of disclosure is minimised. Children at school should also be taught how
to empathise with the sick and not laugh at them.
Dr. Edward DdumbaSenior consultant neurologist, Nsambya Hospital
Fruits and vegetables
If you take your flu-ridden child to hospital, a bottle of multi-vitamins will be the first recommendation by any doctor because vitamins increase immunity and the body's ability to resist flu.
Bagonza advises parents to give children lots of fruits because they provide the best protection against flu and cough. Fruits with a higher vitamin C content like lemons, oranges and tangerines, followed by other fruits like mangoes and pineapples are the best.
Give as many fruits as the child can eat with a minimum of two servings a day. Incorporating vegetables in the diet also helps. A vegetable salad with a lot of cabbages, onions, garlic and tomatoes is particularly good for cough.
Drink a lot
Bagonza also recommends that you give lots of drinks to your child because the body loses fluids when attacked by flu. The high fluid intake will make the child's recovery time shorter and less irritating.
Water, lemon tea and fruit juices are perfect, although Bagonza warns that these have to be either hot (to decongest the nose), lukewarm or at room temperature.
"Cold drinks trigger dormant upper respiratory viruses during this time, making the flu and cough worse," Bagonza explains. When making lemon tea, add the lemon peel because it releases the oils that aid recovery.
This is very good for cough, so add honey instead of sugar to your child's juice and tea. The child can also take the honey independently.
For both cough and flu, try herbal tea with fresh ginger, cinnamon, honey, garlic and lemon. Since you are dealing with a child, make the tea according to their taste because they might not drink it if it is too strong.
Very effective for older children with a stuffy nose, steaming involves covering the head (at intervals) over a bucket of hot water. Uncover the child when they need to breath and repeat until the nose is decongested. For better effectiveness, boil the water with eucalyptus leaves and banana leaves.
This is an option for babies and younger children (kindergarten age) who cannot stand steaming. Scrape the white hard part (the core of the banana stem) with a knife and press the child's nose at intervals until they can breathe easily.