Of Snot and Sniffles: Part One

Recently on the Kapiti Coast, there has been a large surge in the 'flu', or more specifically the Influenza B virus. I had received the notification from Regional Public Health, and within one week, I was seeing a whole lot of children with it.

What is the 'flu'? When should we get worried about a fever? What can we do? Does the 'flu' jab (vaccine) work?

These are a few of the most common questions I get asked.

The 'flu' is the Influenza virus. It causes high fever, usually above 38.5 degrees Celsius. Other symptoms may range from a little bit of colourless runny nose, slight dry cough, body aches/headaches, to no major symptoms at all except for the fever.

The 'flu' is to the 'common cold', as the Bengal tiger is to the domestic cat. The 'flu' packs a lot more punch, and in rare cases may be fatal. Whereas the common cold may cause a low fever, with the same range of symptoms as the 'flu' but not as severe.

A fever, is a core body temperature of 37.5 degrees Celsius or higher. Core body temperature can be measured by a tympanic thermometer (poke-in-the-ear), or a standard pen-style thermometer under the tongue, armpit, or if you prefer the retro-style: up the bottom.

Often times my patients/parents of patients ask what is a temperature that should cause worry.

I always go by: if a temperature responds to treatment, then it is not a cause for concern.

It is when a temperature that does not decrease despite all the appropriate treatments, that we get worried. What are the appropriate treatments, I hear you say?

There are two main ways of treating a fever:

  1. Physical methods: Stripping the child down in a warm room. Using a tepid facecloth, continuously wipe the back of the the neck, armpits, and groin (the part where the thighs joins to the body. NOT the genitals). These are where the major blood vessels in the body travel close to the skin, and can quickly bring core temperature down within minutes. Tip: cool the cloth off after a few wipes as you'll find it quickly heats up with body heat. Often the child will complain of being cold, or shiver - this is normal, as the body thinks it should be warmer than usual in illness.

  2. Medicine: Most commonly, paracetamol and ibuprofen. These two medicines reduce fever and pain in different ways, do not interfere with each other, and therefore work very well with each other to reduce the fever and aches of any illnesses. They are also generally mild enough to use on the youngest children. Ask your doctor about the suitability of these medicines for your child.

What about antibiotics?

Antibiotics work for a bacterial infection, but not for a viral infection. Bacteria and viruses are two different types of 'bugs'.

To be continued...