Martian Death Flu

Some years the Influenza virus gets a special name for it’s strain, like Swine Flu or H1N1.  When he had his bout with flu, humorist Dave Barry made up his own: Martian Death Flu. He and his wife spent days in bed achy and feverish. “There has been a mound of blankets on my wife’s side of the bed,” he wrote, “I think it might be my wife…the only way to tell for sure would be to prod it, which I wouldn’t do” for fear that poking her could be fatal. Dave, leading a more active lifestyle, attempted to crawl to the bathroom.

Flu season is coming, that winter scourge that lays millions of kids and adults out on beds and couches.  They cough, ache in head, throat and body, and occasionally vomit or have diarrhea. This misery can last 7 days, and medications like ibuprofen, Tylenol, and Tamiflu, only somewhat alleviate symptoms. It’s highly contagious, like Coronavirus. It can be life-threatening for medically vulnerable kids, those with asthma or heart conditions.

Last winter when Coronavirus started in China, many kids admitted to the hospital had combinations of viral infections, like Corona and Flu, or Corona and RSV.  Normally we see children with two contagious infections together in a season, like strep throat and flu or RSV and flu.  Put one of those together with Coronavirus, and it’s a whole new, awful, ball game.

Perhaps this’ll be a better-than-usual flu season, since we’ll be wearing masks, washing our hands more often, and staying distant from each other. However, these aren’t easy for kids, who fidget and horse around, and thus don’t follow the rules. Parents also forget to wear masks or keep their kids apart. We worry about parents organizing birthday parties and sleep-overs, potential Coronavirus and flu spreading events.

When hurricane Katrina was approaching, officials warned that “this is the one” to evacuate from.  Likewise, this year is “the one” to get you and your kids flu shots. Like masks, hand-washing, and distancing, flu shots are one more way to protect children; maybe the most reliable way given kids’ potential difficulty with hygiene measures. Because some kids will get both Influenza and Corona at the same time, a real Martian Death Flu combination.

Bronchiolitis is another winter scourge besides Influenza virus. It also needs a better name, like Dave Barry calling Influenza “Martian Death Flu.” For one, it sounds too much like Bronchitis, an adult respiratory illness. For another, “bronchiolitis” doesn’t really convey the misery infants and toddlers go through. Maybe call it Baby Snot Virus From Hell (BSVH)?  Gunk Hacking Infant Whopper (GHIW)? Slime Scourge?  Phlegm Factory? I could go on for days.

Many people know bronchiolitis by the virus that often causes it: RSV.  Respiratory Syncytial Virus is just one of the viruses causing this syndrome, but it’s the most common, and is highly contagious.  While most kids just get runny noses and fevers,  some babies and toddlers have trouble breathing and need hospitalization for oxygen and observation.  They can also get so congested that they can’t breathe and drink at the same time, thus needing IV fluids for hydration.

Bronchiolitis care is frustrating because there’s no effective treatment to ease symptoms or shorten the course. Nebulizers and steroids used for asthma don’t work for RSV.  We’re left with “supportive care:” riding it out with oxygen, IV fluids, and sometimes more intensive life support.

Like we surmised above with flu, maybe this winter’s “RSV season” will be better than usual. Adults and older kids carry RSV, and with masks, hand-hygiene, and distancing, maybe RSV won’t spread as much. However, the kids who get bronchiolitis- infants and toddlers- won’t be wearing masks much.  Daycares have stayed open, and are notorious places for RSV to pass from toddler to toddler, crib to crib. Not every daycare worker washes hands like he/she should, and toddlers certainly don’t. Even the most obsessive caregivers occasionally let their guard down. They’re only human.

Also like we discussed above, during last winter’s Coronavirus outbreak in China many hospitalized kids were co-infected with Coronavirus and RSV.  Both viruses are highly contagious, and every winter we see several kids who are likewise co-infected with contagions- RSV plus Influenza, Influenza plus Strep throat.  Thus we can expect to see babies and toddlers with both RSV and Coronavirus.  Baby Snot Virus From Hell indeed!  Wash your hands, wear your masks, and for goodness’ sake stay away!

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