After last year's H1N1 scare, parents and doctors alike are relieved that the pandemic has passed. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. public health emergency for 2009 H1N1 influenza expired on June 23, 2010. However, like the seasonal virus, the H1N1 virus is a contagious flu that is likely to continue for years to come, the CDC says.
Understandably, parents and doctors still want to protect babies against contagious flu.
Unlike many older children, infants can't tell you when they're sick, so you'll need to be on the lookout for infant symptoms of flu. The symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and tiredness. If your child's behavior is unusual or if your child has any of those symptoms, be sure to consult your doctor.
When it comes to protecting people from contagious flu, doctors give one piece of advice over and over. "Hand washing, hand washing, hand washing," says Amy Baxter, M.D., a pediatric emergency doctor in Atlanta, Ga. Dr. Baxter is also director of emergency research for Scottish Rite, and CEO of Buzzy4shots.
Dr. Dania Lindenberg, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in San Diego, Calif., agrees. Says Lindenberg, who is mom to an almost-3-year old as well as a 10-month old: "At home, I protect myself and my family by getting us all vaccinated. I wash my hands often, and teach my kids to cover their coughs and use tissues. So far, my family has been healthy!"
Hand washing is particularly important, Dr. Lindenberg says, because people can be contagious even before symptoms start. "Like other flu viruses, H1N1 is spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing and coming into contact with items that an infected person has touched. As long as you have symptoms, you're considered contagious and should minimize contact with other people until your symptoms are completely gone," says Dr. Lindenberg.
Children may be contagious longer than adults, she notes.
Vaccination and other protection tips
"The single most important step you can take to protect your loved ones from influenza is to receive an annual influenza vaccine," says Dr. Jill Hoffman, Chief for the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. "This vaccine should be given to everyone from 6 months of age on," she says.
In addition to frequently washing hands with soap and water, or using hand sanitizers on your hands, Dr. Lindenberg offers the following flu-protection tips:
Breastfeeding and the flu
If mothers who are breastfeeding come down with contagious flu, should they take a break from breastfeeding? "Breastfeeding passes along mom's antibodies, so don't quit feeding if mom gets sick," says Dr. Baxter. "And, try to keep breastfeeding until after the flu season, which peaks in February and March," she adds.
Gerber Life is not qualified to make medical statements. For complete information on protecting your baby from contagious flu and treating infants if they become sick, consult your doctor.
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