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Fall means more colds, flu abound

It’s only November, and Dr. Robert Barnes is already seeing the usual suspects show up at his office: Colds, strep throat and intestinal flu.

He’s still expecting to see cases of chickenpox, which usually start in November and December, and the bad boy of winter illnesses, the flu, beginning in January.

Barnes, a pediatrician with St. Joseph Medical Group, says last year’s flu season wasn’t as bad because of the mild winter, but he expects the opposite this year.

But without a doctor’s diagnosis it can be difficult for parents to determine whether a child should stay home or go to school.

Dr. Shobana Pandian, a pediatrician with Parkview Physicians Group, says a child should stay home if he or she has a fever, vomiting or diarrhea.

With the colder weather, kids will be spending more time indoors, which means a greater chance for infections, she says.

Pandian says parents should not send their children to school if they haven’t been feeling well for a few days. She says it’s always good to err on the side of caution. In addition, by sending the child to school, parents are “giving the opportunity for the virus to spread,” which is “making it harder for everyone to get better,” she says.

For serious illnesses, such as pneumonia or the flu, a child should probably stay home, Barnes says.

Pandian says people should learn the difference between the flu and stomach flu. The flu is a respiratory illness, which includes such symptoms as a fever and body aches and pains. The stomach flu will involve vomiting and diarrhea.

She says it’s important for parents to get their children, as well as themselves, the yearly flu vaccine. Many people fear they will get sick from the flu vaccine, but Pandian says that is not true.

In the cases of other illnesses or symptoms, it all depends.

Barnes says he usually sees cases of strep throat from the first day of school to the last.

If a parent believes a child has strep throat, Barnes will do a test. If positive, the child will receive a dose of antibiotics. “I tell parents after two to three doses of medicine, (a child) can go back to school,” he says.

If it’s just a sore throat, they can probably go to school, he says.

In the case of rashes, if there is no fever, it’s probably not contagious, Barnes says. However, a rash that is under a child’s clothes, may not be detected until he or she starts scratching.

For such things as pinkeye, Barnes says many people confuse the symptoms. If a child’s eye is red and itchy, it’s not necessarily pinkeye. Pinkeye will become really red and progress quickly, he says. There will be mucus accumulated in the corners of the eyes that will resemble pus, and it will continue to build up even if wiped out.

Pandian says parents should know when to call their pediatrician. They should also consider the age of the child. If a child is younger and the parent is concerned, Pandian usually suggests that the child see the doctor.

However, if a child is older and able to voice their symptoms, then the doctor can better determine a course of treatment, such as stay at home and rest or take cough medicine.

In addition to the flu vaccine, Pandian recommends other ways to avoid getting sick this winter. Children should wash their hands regularly and use hand sanitizer. Children should also cover their mouth with the inside of their elbow when coughing or sneezing. Parents should practice general hygiene at home, including sanitizing surfaces.