Vigilance, cool heads called for

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 23, 2003

Unless one has children, it’s impossible to imagine the terror that parents are feeling over the deaths in the past week of five children in southeast Virginia.

It’s agonizing to have to watch sobbing, devastated mothers and fathers on television news attempt to describe their tragedy.

Be that as it may, its critical now that parents be as vigilant as possible, to learn everything they can about what is going on and to be able to recognize the signs that their children may be in danger and how to respond.

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State health officials suspect some sort of virus is the killer, possibly influenza, but they don’t expect to know with any certainty until next week.

Meanwhile, the death count continues to grow. As horrifying as it all is, parents must not panic, but keep a cool head. Our children must not fear death every time they sneeze.

All that is known now is that those who have died have exhibited similar symptoms: upper respiratory problems, persistent, high fever and lethargy.

Public health officials have offered the following advice for parents:

— Make a doctor’s appointment for children when:

— They can’t hold down fluids and aren’t urinating regularly.

— They are irritable, agitated, confused or not alert or show no interest in toys, books or other activities.

— They have an unexplained rash.

— They have run a fever for more than three days.

— Trust your instincts and err on the side of caution.

To protect children:

— Wash their hands frequently.

— Use a tissue to blow noses and immediately discard.

— Cover their mouths or use a tissue when coughing.

— Avoid sharing cups or eating utensils with other children.

For more information, call the Centers for Disease Control at 1-888-246-2675 for English instructions, and 1-888-246-2857 for Spanish instructions.