December 4th, 2009
12:46 PM ET

How your child can help blow the whistle on H1N1

By John Bonifield
CNN Medical Producer

Elijah Wiertel has been sick with H1N1 flu for several days now. The 8-year-old thinks he's getting well, but would he know what to tell his mom and dad if he suddenly started getting worse? Elijah's pediatrician, Dr. Author Lavin, says parents can empower children who are sick with swine flu to help look for specific warning signs.

"A lot of times kids are actually the ones that come to their parents and say, 'I'm not feeling right. Something's not right. I hurt here. I'm having trouble breathing.' Or, 'Should my fingernails be looking like this?' Or, 'I can't move my neck anymore,'" Lavin says. "It's often the children who blow the whistle and let everyone know something's wrong."

So how can worried moms and dads talk to their sick kids about the flu? Here's how Elijah's doctor talked with him about what he should do as he continues to remain ill:

Dr. Lavin: If you start having trouble breathing, you'd tell your mom and dad, right?
Elijah: (Nods).
Dr. Lavin: If your neck got stiff and you couldn't move anymore, you'd tell your mom and dad about that?
Elijah: It never got stiff but -
Dr. Lavin: But what if it did?
Elijah: I'd tell my mom and dad.
Dr. Lavin: And then if your fingers got blue, you would notice that? You might not notice that...
Elijah: Yeah.
Dr. Lavin: You would notice that?
Elijah: I write a lot, so I have to put my hands on paper.
Dr. Lavin: They're usually pink, but what if they turned blue? What would you do?
Elijah: I'd tell my mom and dad.
Dr. Lavin: And what if something really hurts? Hurts so badly you had to cry? Who would you tell?
Elijah: My mom and dad.

Trouble breathing, a stiff neck, blue fingernails, and continuous pain in one spot are all warning signs that could signal a child's H1N1 flu has crossed the line to become a potentially deadly virus. Lavin says parents shouldn't rely solely on their child's observations to determine whether they're getting worse, but he says kids can be "a very important part of the equation."

For more advice to parents on H1N1 warning signs, be sure to check out Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen's "Empowered Patient" column.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.