Flu (Influenza)

The flu (influenza) is an infection of the nose, throat and lungs caused by flu viruses (there are a number of different types). While the flu typically causes mild symptoms, it can be severe enough to cause hospitalization in people who are otherwise healthy.  Flu occurs most commonly in the winter and early spring. 

The flu can be very serious, especially for young children and children who have chronic lung or heart conditions or immune deficiencies. These conditions include asthma or other lung problems, diabetes, weakened immune systems, kidney disease, heart problems and neuromuscular disorders. It may be harder for children with these conditions to fight influenza. 

Flu spreads mainly from person to person through contact with fluids when people cough, sneeze or talk. Infection may happen if a person touches something with flu viruses on it and then touches his/her mouth, nose or eyes. 

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Symptoms may also include vomiting and diarrhea.

Even children who have always been healthy or had the flu before can get a severe case of flu. Call or take your child to a doctor right away if your child of any age has:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing 
  • Bluish or gray skin color 
  • Severe or persistent vomiting 
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Any chronic health condition (like heart or lung disease, diabetes, or asthma) and flu-like symptoms, including a fever and/or cough

Also, call or go to the doctor right away if your child is:

  • Unresponsive or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that he/she does not want to be held
  • Not drinking enough fluids

People who are sick with the flu are most likely to spread the illness from one day before getting sick until one day after the fever goes away. But, it is possible to spread illness for up to seven days after getting sick.

Everyone in your household should receive a flu vaccine to protect themselves from getting the flu. The CDC recommends that all children over 6 months of age be vaccinated unless there is a specific reason they cannot receive the vaccine. Caregivers of children with health conditions or of children less than 6 months of age should get vaccinated.  Pregnant women should be vaccinated because research shows that the baby is protected both while the woman is pregnant and for a few months after the baby is born.

Take these steps to help stop the spread of flu viruses:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, also after you cough or sneeze.
    • If soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth (germs spread this way).
  • Teach your child to take these actions too.
  • Try to keep your child from having close contact (about 6 feet) with sick people, as well as anyone in the house who is sick.
  • Keep surfaces like bedside tables, bathrooms, kitchen counters and toys for children clean by wiping them down with a household sanitizer according to directions on the product label.
  • Throw away tissues and any non-reusable items used by sick people in your home.

Medicines are available to treat flu. However, these medicines need to be prescribed by a doctor. As most people get better without medicines, doctors mainly use these drugs in people needing hospitalization or at high risk of developing severe flu infections.

The main goal is to make your child feel comfortable by giving acetaminophen or ibuprofen and lots of fluids. If your child is otherwise healthy and the fever does not go away after two to three days, or you think he or she is getting worse, contact your doctor. 

Washing hands with soap and running water (for as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song) will help protect against many germs. When soap and running water are not available, wipes or gels with alcohol in them can be used (the gels should be rubbed into your hands until they are dry).

Do not send a child with the flu to daycare or school.  Your child should stay home to rest and to avoid giving the flu to other children.

Keep your child home from school, daycare or camp for at least 24 hours after his / her fever is gone. (The fever should be gone without the help of a fever-reducing medicine.) A fever is defined as an oral temperature of 100°F or above (37.8°C). 

Last Updated 03/2016