Well-child Visits Increase Risk of Flu: Going to the Doctor Makes You Sick

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Well-child checkups may come with an added surprise, the flu. Image by Janelle Vaesa, all rights reserved.

Well-child checkups may come with an added surprise, the flu. Image by Janelle Vaesa, all rights reserved.

Taking your child to the doctor for their well-child check up means vaccinations stay on schedule, and that you can make sure your child is healthy and meeting milestones according to his or her age.

However, do you ever wonder, when you step inside the pediatrician’s waiting room, how many germs you may encounter while you’re there?

When you come in healthy and a few days later you and/or your child are sick, did you ever wonder whether you got sick from going to the doctor? Well you aren’t the only ones wondering; researchers have now conducted a study on pediatrician’s waiting rooms, and the risk of getting the flu.

Getting the Flu: The Study

Researchers from the University of Iowa used data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s (AHRQ) Medical Expenditure Panel Survey from the years of 1996-2008, and researchers identified 84,595 families for this study.

For each family the researchers examined the weeks in which a well-child visit or influenza-like-illness visit occurred, and discovered that well-child visits for children under the age of six increased the probability of of influenza-like-illness in these children or their families during the next two weeks by 3.2 percentage points.

According to the study, “This additional risk translates to potentially 778,974 excess cases of ILI per year in the United States, with a cost of $500 million annually.” That’s close to 800,000 cases of the flu that we could prevent with simple measures.

Dr. Phil Polgreen

Decoded Science had to opportunity to interview Phil Polgreen, MD, MPH, lead author of “Are Well-child Visits a Risk Factor for Subsequent Influenza-Like-Illness Visits?” We asked how doctor’s offices can help prevent the spread of influenza, and he explained:

There are ways to prevent getting sick when you go to the doctor's office. Image by: Randam

There are ways to prevent getting sick when you go to the doctor’s office. Image by: Randam

There are specific guidelines to help prevent the spread of infections in outpatient settings. Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee has created an infection-control checklist for outpatient clinics. This checklist includes providing infection prevention supplies – masks, tissues, hand sanitizer, training clinic staff about infection control, and routine clinic cleaning. Following these guidelines will help reduce the risk of spreading infections during outpatient visits.

Avoid the Flu During Well-Visits

You can’t get out of it – your kids need to go to their checkups. We asked Dr. Polgreen how we can avoid catching the flu, and keep our kids healthy, when we have to visit the pediatrician. According to Dr. Polgreen, keeping current on vaccinations, washing hands, and watching to make sure your nurse and doctor also washed their hands are all ideal. He tells us,

Making sure that your children’s vaccinations are up to date is essential. Also, making sure that you and your child practice hand hygiene is importantIn addition, if your child may have a respiratory infection, it is important to let clinic staff know as soon as possible, ideally before the visit even takes place. Parents should not be afraid to ask for infection prevention supplies – masks, tissues, hand sanitizer. Finally, it is ok for parents to ask healthcare providers if they have practiced hand hygiene.”

Well-Child Waiting Rooms

One waiting room for sick kids, and one for healthy kids – sounds great, right? We asked Dr. Polgreen whether the study examined situations in which the doctor’s office had a separate sick and well waiting rooms, and he explained,

For this study, we were not able to control for the presence or absence of a well-child waiting room. We do think that having well child waiting rooms would help dramatically reduce the risk of spreading diseases. However, even if clinics have separate waiting rooms it does not follow that they are always used appropriately.”

Well Visits are Important

So there you have it parents; you aren’t imagining that when you take your child to the doctor, a few days later you or your child are sick. Dr. Polgreen suggests some helpful ways that parents can help prevent infections as well as ways that staff at the pediatrician’s office can do to help minimize the virus, and tells us not to avoid the well-child visits just to keep from getting sick.

He says, “Our results should not be used to discourage parents from taking their children for their well-child visits. Indeed, well-child visits are essential for monitoring and maintaining child health. However, we do think these results should motivate healthcare professionals to do a better job implementing existing guidelines to reduce the risk of spreading infections in outpatient settings.”

 

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