SURVIVING THE FLU: Babies and Children

As a mother you can tell when your child is sick or not feeling well. It can be particularly scary when they come down with a virus such as the flu…especially when they are young.  This illness is more intense than a cold and can come on suddenly- out of nowhere.

Some of the following are symptoms to look for in your child:

  • Fever that may come on suddenly
  • Chills
  • Headache 
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Cough
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased fussiness in babies

What causes the flu?

The flu gets its name from the virus that causes it, the influenza virus. A flu virus is often passed from child to child through sneezing or coughing. The virus can also live for a short time on surfaces. This includes doorknobs, toys, pens or pencils, keyboards, phones and tablets, and counter tops. Your child can get the flu by touching something that was touched by an infected person, and then touching his or her mouth, nose, or eyes.

Most children are contagious with the flu 24 hours before symptoms start. The risk of infecting others usually stops around day 7. Because the flu can be spread before symptoms even start, it can be easy to become infected with the virus. This is true especially with children, who often touch many surfaces and then their mouth, nose, or eyes.

How is the flu diagnosed?

Your pediatrician will perform a physical exam and assess your child’s symptoms.  They more often than not, will do a nasal or mouth swab in order to properly diagnose their illness.

How is the flu treated?

The age, symptoms and overall health of your child will determine how they are treated for the flu.  Most of the time they are able to be treated at home with no antiviral medication.  For treatment at home they encourage the following:

  • Drink a lot of liquid to prevent dehydration.
  • Get plenty of sleep and take it easy.
  • Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve fever and aches.
  • Wear layers that are easy to take on and off. Kids might feel cold one minute and hot the next.

On occasion, the pediatrician may prescribe antiviral medicine for a very ill child or kids who are at risk for more serious symptoms. The medicine can shorten the flu by only 1–2 days. It works best if children start taking it within 48 hours after symptoms begin. Antibiotics are not prescribed for the flu as it is a viral infection, not a bacterial infection.

How long does the flu last?

Fever and other flu symptoms often go away after a week or so, but some children may still have a cough or feel weak for longer than that. Children with the flu should stay home from school and childcare until they feel better. They should be fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicine.

Flu Prevention

For more information on flu prevention please read our blog SURVIVING THE FLU: Tips and Recommendations.

The Flu Vaccine

The CDC recommends babies 6 months and older, parents and caregivers of children should get a yearly flu shot to prevent or lessen the severity of symptoms. Always contact your health care provider and your child’s pediatrician for further medical information regarding the flu vaccine.

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