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Influenza: Guidelines for Parents

What is the flu?

The flu is an illness caused by a virus. There are three different flu viruses, types A, B, and C. Type A (the most common) and B (usually milder) cause the usual epidemics of the flu. Flu viruses usually strike between December and early April. The flu is spread from person to person in the following ways:

  • Direct had-to-hand contact
  • Indirect contact (ex. If your child touches an infected surface like a toy or doorknob and then puts her hand to her own eyes, nose, or mouth)
  • Virus droplets being passed through the air from coughing or sneezing

How do I know my child has the flu and not a cold?

Both are caused by viruses and share many symptoms, but there are a few differences. Children with a common cold usually have a lower fever, a runny nose, and only a small amount of coughing. Children with the flu usually feel much sicker, achy, and miserable. Also, the flu tends to strike more quickly than a cold. Stomach upsets and vomiting are more common with the flu than with a cold. The flu, unlike a cold, keeps most children in bed for several days. The flu can last a week or even longer. Your child usually will feel the worst during the first 2 or 3 days and may have any of the following symptoms:

  • Sore throat
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Vomiting and belly pain
  • Chills and shakes with the fever
  • Stuffy, runny nose
  • Dry, hacking cough
  • Headache and body aches
  • A sudden fever (usually above 101°F)

How do I treat the flu and help prevent my child from catching it again?

In children older than 1 year of age, type A influenza can be treated with antiviral agents if given in the first day or two of the illness. This can speed recovery. Antibiotics can be used to fight bacterial infections but have no effect on viruses, including the influenza viruses. Extra bed rest, extra fluids, and light, easy-to-digest meals can also help your child feel better. If your child is uncomfortable because of fever, acetaminophen in proper doses for age and weight will help him feel better. Do not give your child over-the-counter cough or cold medicines without checking with your pediatrician. Do not give aspirin to your child for the flu. Good hygiene is the best way to prevent the flu from spreading to other family members. If your child has the flu, the following will help prevent its spread:

  • Teach your child to cover her mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing, not with his hands.
  • Throw tissues in the trash after each use.
  • Avoid kissing your child on or around the moth or face.
  • Make sure everyone washes her hands before and after coming in close contact with someone with the flu.
  • Wash dishes and utensils in hot, soapy water or in the dishwasher.
  • Do not let children share pacifiers, cups, utensils, washcloths, or towels. Never share toothbrushes.
  • Use disposable paper cups in the bathroom and kitchen.
  • Use a disinfectant or soap and hot water to keep areas clean.
  • Do not smoke around your child. Children who are exposed to tobacco smoke cough and wheeze more and have a harder time getting over the flu.

Children 6 through 23 months are encouraged to get a flu shot each fall. The best time to get the flu vaccine is in late October to early December before the flu season starts. Because the strains of flu are different every year, a new flu vaccine is developed each year as well. Side effects are almost always minor and include soreness at the site of the injection and a low-grade fever. The flu shot cannot cause influenza. If your child has had a serious allergic reaction to eggs or egg products, a skin test should be done before getting the vaccine. The influenza vaccine involves the use of eggs. An older child with the flu usually does not need to see the pediatrician unless the condition becomes more serious. If your child is 3 months of age or younger, however, call your pediatrician if she has a fever. For a child older than 3 months of age who has been exposed to the flu, call your pediatrician if your child experiences any of the following:

  • Pain in the ear
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Continued or new onset of fever after 3 to 4 days of illness.
  • Blue lips or nails
  • A cough that just will not go away (for more than 1 week)

Information on this site is intended for Angel Kids Pediatrics patients only. Always consult your doctor before beginning, modifying, or discontinuing any treatment plan.

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