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First step to fight H1N1: Keep sick kids home

/ Source: East Valley Tribune

Children who get sick with flu-like symptoms need to stay home, health experts agree. The first step to help temper the flow of the H1N1 virus this fall is to limit exposure.

"The main key is to send sick kids home," said Dr. Bob England, Maricopa County's director of public health.

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Children who get sick with flu-like symptoms need to stay home, health experts agree.

The first step to help temper the flow of the H1N1 virus this fall is to limit exposure.

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"The main key is to send sick kids home," said Dr. Bob England, Maricopa County's director of public health. "Parents need to make a plan right now if their kids wake up sick in the morning."

The H1N1 virus is now the dominant flu striking people around the globe. But so far, it is not making people any more sick than the seasonal virus has in the past, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"For the vast majority of us, including most kids, this will feel just like seasonal flu," England told participants in a Tribune online event Monday. "We'll feel exhausted, achy, feverish, and probably have a cough and/or sore throat."

Underlying health conditions - such as diabetes, respiratory illness, immune disorders - can make some children more vulnerable.

England said parents of children with a history of these illnesses should call a doctor as soon as flulike symptoms arise.

"A lot of providers will tell you to come in and be seen. Others may prescribe antivirals over the phone," England said.

Both the H1N1 virus and the seasonal flu have similar symptoms: fever, body aches, cough. Though one is not more lethal than the other, the H1N1 virus is proving to be more transferable.

In either case, parents may want to call a doctor if their child:

• Has a fever that doesn't go away after a few days or has a dramatically high fever.

• Is listless or seems to have no energy.

• Has difficulty breathing.

• Struggles to keep fluids down.

"That's the big one with kids," England told the Tribune.

Parents need to make sure their children stay hydrated.

Marti Reich, infection preventionist at Mesa's Banner Desert Medical Center and Cardon Children's Medical Center, said patients should come to the emergency room when they have symptoms they can't manage at home.

"If you're having respiratory distress or can't manage the fever or keep hydrated, it's appropriate to see your doctor or the emergency room," she said.

Some signs of respiratory distress include difficulty breathing, a bluish color to skin or lips, and lethargy or difficulty arousing a person.

In the spring, emergency rooms and urgent cares saw increased traffic when news of the H1N1 virus hit and so little was known about it.

The East Valley will have more capacity at its emergency rooms when the Cardon Children's Medical Center opens in November.

Unlike last spring, Banner Desert's emergency room - as well as the children's emergency room on the same campus - will not conduct a rapid test for influenza because the test was too unpredictable in the spring, Reich said. Emergency room patients also will not be offered medication - such as the antiviral Tamiflu, she said.

"For people who come to the ER thinking they have the flu, they're going to receive supportive care and education. If they don't require admission, they won't be getting a test or medication unless they're in a high-risk group that has special needs," she said.

With surveillance of the disease going on around the world, the medical community knows more about what to expect. Health care providers can also track local cases of the illness through the Maricopa County Department of Public Health Web site, and statistics from local emergency rooms.

Reich said those reports will help predict staffing needs for the hospitals. Administrators can also look at how ill patients are to determine staff ratios.

"If we just have more patients in numbers, and they're not very ill, that might not require an increase in staffing. But if they're extremely ill, then the acuity goes up and more nurses are called into work," Reich said. "In a flu pandemic, we can help to provide care for more influenza patients by rescheduling the number of elective procedures being performed."

Hand sanitizer is available at all entrances, Reich said.

Instructions at the emergency room will request patients with a cough put on a mask.

Reich said signs are now posted explaining restrictions at the Banner hospitals around the Valley. Beginning Wednesday, children 12 and younger will not be allowed to visit in the hospitals.

Local health offices are preparing for the seasonal flu vaccine clinics to start, some this week. Health officials around the state suggest the public gets vaccinated for the seasonal flu vaccine now - and the H1N1 vaccine when it's available - to try to reduce the impact of both illnesses on emergency rooms, urgent cares and doctors' offices.