As a dad of three, I’m getting increasingly concerned – panicky in fact – about swine flu, but there seems to be little practical advice around for parents. This has left us feeling rather helpless. What can we be doing to protect our kids? Andrew, Al Sufouh
There’s been such a lot about swine flu in the media recently, including rumours that nurseries were to close as a preventative measure. So it’s understandable that parents are growing increasingly worried and struggling to separate the facts from the fluff.
The truth is, kids can catch airborne viral infections, including swine flu or H1N1, from any number of places we all frequent on a regular basis, such as malls, supermarkets, nurseries and schools, even at playdates. Yes, you can baton down the hatches and keep the entire family locked indoors but, let’s face it, this is not a practical option for most of us.
We asked Dr Zuhair Mohmandar, a specialist pediatrician and consultant neo-natal expert at the Emirates Hospital, for his advice and discovered that it basically boils down to good-old common sense.
‘First of all, prevention is better than cure,’ he says. ‘Make sure everyone in your family regularly washes their hands and face.’ Hmm, but some kids (mainly boys, we’re sorry to say) would rather have their teeth pulled than brave soap and water. But, says Dr Zuhair, ‘It’s crucial they wash regularly. Really, it is not possible to do this too much and when you are out and about, use hand sanitisers. Wearing a mask is not necessary, but you should encourage basic good manners such as covering their mouth and nose when they cough or sneeze.’
Apart from that, all you can do is keep an eye on your family and look out for the symptoms which, unfortunately, are similar to any number of childhood ailments. They include, says Dr Zuhair, coughing, sneezing, fever, sore throat and perhaps nausea and diaorrhea.
‘It’s important not to exaggerate the symptoms or panic,’ he says. ‘Many kids have swine flu and get over it quickly without any complications, but the responsibility rests with parents and teachers. If your child is poorly, keep them off school until they have fully recovered. If you have a sick child in class, send them home.’
The drug of choice for fighting swine flu is Tamiflu, but this should only be given in confirmed cases because of strong side effects and because you don’t want your child to become resistant to the drug.
Confirming swine flu is not that easy, although swab tests and a PCR test can be carried out in suspected or high-risk cases, such as with kids under five, whose immune systems are not yet fully developed, and children who have other health problems such as asthma or diabetes. At the moment, however, private clinics can only conduct tests for Influenza A which, if positive, indicate a need for further testing.
Dr Zuhair Mohmandar practises at the Emirates Hospital, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 349 6666).