This article originally appeared in the Dec. 3, 2009 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
For several months now, St. Louis and the rest of the nation has been braced for a tidal wave of H1N1 (swine) flu infection.
During several weeks in September and October, the emergency department at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center was seeing 250 children a day, roughly twice the normal number of visits. That surge led Cardinal Glennon to open an Influenza-Like Illness Clinic in one of our indoor clinic areas, to keep those with flu-like symptoms separated from other emergency patients and to see them quickly.
However, the surge was short-lived and the flu spike seems to have subsided, at least temporarily. The Cardinal Glennon ER is almost back to normal volumes – about 150 children a day – and the Influenza-Like Illness Clinic is closed unless H1N1 makes a comeback.
Before we celebrate being out of the woods, though, we should keep in mind that H1N1 could reappear. Even if H1N1 is through, there are plenty of other winter illnesses to come. We have just entered December, after all, and with the cold weather come all sorts of sniffles, snuffles and sneezes. Among the viruses to watch out for:
- A resurgence of H1N1. In other epidemics around the world H1N1 appears to be cyclical, coming on strong for 6 to 8 weeks, then taking a break before coming back a second or even a third time. The H1N1 vaccine, whose delivery was slowed by production difficulties, is becoming more readily available. Contact your child’s primary pediatrician to find out more about getting the vaccine.
- Seasonal Flu – Aside from H1N1, we still have the seasonal flu period on its way. Every year around December, we begin to see the onset of fever, coughing, headaches, muscle aches and other flu symptoms. It’s a good idea to get the seasonal flu vaccine for your child and yourself, in addition to H1N1.
- Respiratory Syncytial Virus – RSV is a highly contagious respiratory virus that is especially hard on infants. Infection with RSV affects people of all ages, but most often occurs during infancy or early childhood; older people may just have cold symptoms. Symptoms include a stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, wheezing and coughing and low-grade fever. Babies may also display difficulty in breathing, listlessness, lack of appetite, irritability and disrupted sleep; rarely they may have pauses in their breathing called “apnea.”
When school is back in full swing after the holidays, you can be sure that there will be plenty of germs to be passed around. Do the smart thing by getting your children immunized, encouraging them to wash their hands often and practicing good sneeze hygiene.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.