Masks, coughs, and flu in Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's emergency departments

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Inside Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's three emergency departments: masks, record crowds, and parents on edge.

"Our emergency volumes are the highest they've ever been," Dr. Daniel Salinas, CHOA's Chief Medical Officer, says. "It's a mixture of respiratory illnesses and influenza."

And with the H3N2 flu hitting adults and children harder than other seasonal flu strains, Dr. Salinas says many parents are worried their child could develop serious complications of the virus.

"I think it's caused a panic in families," Salinas says.

So, the country's largest pediatric health system is trying to reassure parents most children will ride out the flu without complications, and that they, as parents, can handle this.

"Most cases of influenza are not going to be severe," Salinas says. "Your child is going to be sicker than having a cold because influenza is a worse disease than the common cold."

Children's is encouraging parents to contact their pediatrician or primary care provider first if a child does get the flu.

"If their child gets influenza, they're going to need a lot of rest," Dr. Salinas says. "They're going to need some extra tender loving care.  They're going to need extra fluids because they'll have a fever."

Salinas recommends a fever-lowering medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but cautions parents to avoid giving kids aspirin or aspirin-containing products.

Once the fever drops, he says push fluids like water, Pedialyte, and popsicles.

Dehydration is the most common flu complication.

When it becomes severe, a child needs medical intervention.

Salinas says to watch for other complications, like symptoms that seem to be improving and then suddenly worsen.

"If a child gets a severe, unrelenting headache, if they develop labored breathing, confusion, blood in the urine, severe muscle cramps that cannot be relieved, all (may be signs of a secondary infection)," Salinas says.

If you haven't gotten a flu shot for your child, Salinas says to do it, quickly.

"Regardless of what you hear about effectiveness, having a flu vaccine is the number one line of defense against influenza," he says.

If your child is vaccinated and still gets the flu, he or she is less likely to develop serious complications.

"In fact, we're seeing in general that even children who are hospitalized with severe influenza, that their complication rate is less, that their length of stay is less, that their ICU length of stay is less if they've ended up in an ICU if they have the vaccine."

If you've made it through flu season without getting sick, be vigilant about avoiding anyone who appears ill.

"Hand washing is very, very critical," Salinas says.  "Washing their hands but washing their children's hands as well."

Disinfect surfaces, avoid touching your face, and steer clear of crowded places, he recommends.

If the flu hits home, Dr. Salinas says, take a deep breath, pause, and remember, you've got this.

For more on how to protect your family from flu, and how to treat the virus, visit

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