That lingering cough
Don't think I don't see you glaring at me. Yes, those are my kids, coughing up a storm. And, yes, if they were your kids, I'd be glaring at you.
I wish I could hang big signs around my son's and daughter's necks saying "No longer contagious -- we think." As I wrote last week, both kids have been vaccinated against both seasonal flu and H1N1. They got the latter shots, though, only after they'd both had a bout of what the pediatrician's office figured was likely H1N1. A cough came with each of their illnesses. When the other symptoms faded away, the cough remained.
I followed the rules: I kept them home for 24 hours after fever subsided. I've kept an eye on them to make sure some secondary infection has not set in, looking for new symptoms such as difficulty breathing. And, while you might not have noticed with all that hacking going on, I have reminded them frequently -- and they have obeyed -- to cough into their elbow rather than in the open air.
Still, I feel awkward taking them out in public. If I were a stranger, I'd back away if I saw/heard one of them coming. That's where those signs-around-the-neck would come in handy.
To reassure myself that I've not committed a public disservice by releasing my coughing children into the world, I spoke with Henry Bernstein, professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases. He said that as long as I'd kept them home until their temperature had been back to normal, without help from Tylenol, for 24 hours, it was fine to let them loose without fear that they'd infect others.
That lingering cough, he added, is characteristic of many respiratory-tract infections, not just H1N1. "Any virus that invades the upper respiratory tract can cause persistent cough," Bernstein said. Having the cough linger longer than a week or 10 days, as my kids' have, isn't all that common, though, so I still should be on the lookout for those secondary infections.
But in general, Bernstein explained, a cough is a protective mechanism designed to keep foreign stuff out of the airway during illness and afterward. "The virus disrupts the epithelium lining the airway, and that takes a while to heal," he said, which explains why a cough might last a while, too.
As for me and my multiple sclerosis, which places me at risk of complications should I get influenza, I've still not been able to get an H1N1 vaccination because my risk category isn't as high a priority as others such as pregnant women and health-care workers. I've got a packet of Tamiflu in my purse, just in case symptoms show up.
How about you? How is this flu-and-cold season treating you and your family?
Jennifer LaRue Huget
November 19, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Family Health , General Health , Influenza
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