Last year’s Swine Flu debacle scared the bejeezus out of us. So this year we want to be fully prepared for what’s to come. To set our minds (and yours) at ease, we chatted with Dr. J.J. Levenstein of MD Moms about the particulars of the oncoming cold and flu season.

Q. We understand that the H1N1 and Seasonal Flu vaccines have been combined this year, but can you explain exactly who needs the shot and if a booster is required?
A. Coming off the heels of a very atypical flu season last year, the ground rules for flu shot administration this season are a bit confusing. For starters, the CDC is recommending everyone receive flu vaccine this year—as opposed to past years, when the CDC focused on high-risk individuals. In an attempt to clarify the muddy waters, here’s the scoop on who needs what:

  •     Anyone 9 years and over requires just one dose of flu vaccine–whether given as Flumist or a standard shot.
  •     Any child age 6 months–8 years who has had no H1N1 vaccine in the past requires two doses of Flu vaccine this year.
  •     Any child age 6 months–8 years with a normal flu vaccine history (i.e., two doses in any one year, and one dose in subsequent years) AND with any H1N1 (one OR two doses last year) requires only one dose of vaccine this year.
  •     Any child age 6 months–8 years with H1N1 vaccine last year, but either no prior seasonal flu vaccine or incomplete seasonal flu (i.e., no season with two shots given a month apart) will require two doses this year.

Q. Whew. Got it. What if a baby turns 6 months of age after the October/November timeframe when most people are vaccinated? If a baby turns six months in January, should she be vaccinated then?
A. Absolutely. That is the height of the flu season.

Q. Last year we got the message loud and clear that washing hands was critical. What about hand sanitizers? Are they as effective? What about the natural, non-alcohol-based ones?
A. Alcohol-based sanitizers (for adults), natural sanitizers (for babies and tots), cleansing towelettes and plain old soap and water are all effective, as long as they’re applied for at least 30 seconds, with friction.

Q. What else can we do for our little ones to keep this year’s strains at bay?
A. Keep them active. If it’s too cold for outdoor recreation, play inside with small groups of healthy children. But be mindful that large, indoor play venues are loaded with germs and the potential for contagion is high—so stay away from ball pits and big play zones. Ventilate their rooms. Crack the windows whenever you can (weather permitting) to keep fresh air circulating. Clean surfaces hit by sneezes or used tissues with bleach-based wipes so as not to pass germs to other family members. Wash toys frequently. During and after illnesses, put plush toys in the wash and wash hard toys with wipes, to reduce re-infection. Discard toothbrushes after illness.

Q. What about the stomach flu? Do probiotics do anything to prevent/manage stomach flu?
A. There are small studies that show that daily probiotics in children with diarrhea may cut symptoms by a day. There are larger studies in Europe looking at preschoolers who took probiotics daily versus those who didn’t. The tots who did had a significant reduction in colds and upper respiratory infections, so there certainly is a rationale for regular daily use through cold and flu season.

Q. Let’s say all of these preventative measures fail us, and our tots still get sick. How should we treat their discomfort? What on Earth is going on with the Tylenol and Motrin situation?
A. Generics are just fine in this era of recalls and shortages. Triaminic has just come out with a new branded acetaminophen; it is no different or better than generics or Tylenol, but its presence adds to the pool of available options. Other over-the-counter cold remedies haven’t been proven to be effective in young children, so if your child is especially uncomfortable, speak to your health care provider for specific guidance.

Q. What about Old School remedies?
A. If you don’t have access to acetaminophen or ibuprofen, then old fashioned methods of cooling a fever can be used—ingesting lots of cold liquids, dressing in light layers, taking frequent baths/showers, or placing lukewarm compresses on the body with moist towels. Under no circumstances should rubbing alcohol be put on a child (absorption can be significant and lead to potential toxicity). For colds, there is nothing better than fluids and humidity. Drink at least three times more fluids than normal, and promote looser secretions by taking showers, instilling saline into little noses clogged with thick boogies, and put a humidifier in your child’s room if the heat is on or your air is dry.  

Q. On that note, do you recommend cool-mist or warm-mist humidifiers? Any other considerations when selecting one?
A. Cool and warm accomplish the same thing as far as contributing humidity to the air. However, there is a safety factor that makes cool more desirable. If you use a humidifier frequently, watch for mold that can either build up inside the machine or populate your walls. The container should be cleaned every day or two, with hot water and 10 percent bleach or white vinegar, to obliterate water chamber slime and kill any internal critters.