Swine Flu Risk for Toddlers: What a Top Expert Told Me

swine flu and toddlers

Photo by imasurvivor

I don't know anyone with swine flu, and I hope that continues, but some of the realities are hitting a little too close to home lately.

First, the guy wearing the surgical mask on the train the other day -- should we all really start doing that? Then, the sign that went up on the door of my daughter's preschool room yesterday: "All children must wash their hands before entering the classroom." A really good idea, I might add.

And just today the father on the subway scolding his 2 year old for rubbing his eyes, "Jason, please don't do that. That's not a good idea at all!" Geez, any other time most parents wouldn't blink at something like that.


Confused and concerned about the swine flu and how at risk my kids really are, I managed to get some phone time with pediatrician Dr. Joseph Bocchini, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases. In times like these, it's best to go straight to the top.

Needless to say, this mommy had lots of questions ...

This situation seems out of control! Why is swine flu so much different and scarier than the regular flu?

Actually, we don't know if it is at all. People die from the seasonal flu, too. In a typical year 35,000 people in the US die from it, including 50-80 children. So a new strain would obviously cause some deaths, too.

At this point, we don't know how many people are infected and whether the high death rate in Mexico is because it's only tip of iceberg, or if the death rate only looks high, but may in reality be the same as the seasonal flu. All the media attention might not be giving us an accurate picture.

But people -- young people! -- are getting sick and dying so fast. Surely the regular flu isn't this dramatic.

That's what happens when any new strain of virus takes hold in a large population with no immunity, that's why there's the risk of a pandemic, which is the same thing as an epidemic but on a global scale.

Yet, all those schools are closing ...

Public health authorities have a plan in place to reduce exposure, and that includes precautions like closing schools. If even one kid in your child's school or preschool gets sick, your school will probably be closed.

So parents should probably start thinking about what they would do for child care if that happens to their own day care or preschool.

Okay, so what should toddler moms be doing right now to protect our kids? My children will never keep a mask on!

We don't know if those masks even help to reduce transmission of the virus. Wear one if you feel better about it, but realize there's no good evidence that shows they make a difference. There are certain types of masks proven to block viral particles, but those aren't readily to the public.

Bottom line, I want to keep my kids safe. Please prioritize the most important things I should do.

1. Wash their hands. Often, and thoroughly. More than usual.

2. Discourage them from touching their eyes, nose and mouth with their hands.

3. For toddlers, try to avoid large crowds right now. If someone is sick with a viral illness, keep them away form yor kids. If you or your kids are coughing, cough into kleenex and not into your hands.

4. If you or your kids are sick right now, see a doctor right away. They'll know if it's the flu or not, and will give you a quick swab test to be sure.

I'm glad you brought this up. One CafeMom is worried that her kids have the swine flu, but her doctor didn't do the test. What's up with that?

Trust your doctor. The flu is something that's pretty easily diagnosed. Remember, colds and other viruses come on gradually with low-grade fever and general feelings of illness.

The classic flu comes on suddenly, with high fever, shaking chills, lots of muscle aches and pains, followed by a scratchy throat and cough.

What happens if our kids get it? Is it a death sentence?

Not at all. As I said, death from complications from the flu happen with the seasonal flu, as well. We do have effective treatments -- Tamiflu and Relenza.

Then why are so many kids and young people getting it? I thought older people and babies were most susceptible due to their fragile immune systems?

Actually, with the 1918 influenza pandemic, the highest mortality rate did occur in healthy young adults. The theory is that healthy adults have the strongest immune response, which causes inflammation as your body tries to fight the infection. This inflammation causes changes in body that can cause problems, so actually the person with weaker response still kills the germs but manages to get less complications.


Well, I feel a tad better, but I'm definitely joining the ranks of the Handwashing Police. (And I'm wondering if I should call my broker and invest in some soap shares?) What steps are you taking to help prevent the swine flu in your home?

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