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Influenza in Children


What is influenza?

Influenza (the flu) is an infection caused by the influenza virus. The flu is easily spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or has close contact with others. Your child may be able to spread the flu to others for 1 week or longer after signs or symptoms appear.

What are the signs and symptoms of the flu?

Severe symptoms are more likely in children younger than 5 years. They are also more likely in children who have heart or lung disease, or a weak immune system. Signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Fever and chills
  • Headaches, body aches, earaches, and muscle or joint pain
  • Dry cough, runny or stuffy nose, and sore throat
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Tiredness
  • Fast breathing, trouble breathing, or chest pain

How is the flu diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will examine your child. Tell him or her if your child has health problems such as epilepsy or asthma. Tell the provider if your child has been around sick people or traveled recently. A sample of fluid may be collected from your child's nose or throat to be tested for the flu virus.

How is the flu treated?

Most healthy children get better within a week. Your child may need any of the following:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines your child uses to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your child's doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him or her. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's healthcare provider.
  • Antivirals help fight a viral infection.

How can I manage my child's symptoms?

  • Help your child rest and sleep as much as possible as he or she recovers.
  • Give your child liquids as directed to help prevent dehydration. Your child may need to drink more than usual. Ask your child's healthcare provider how much liquid your child should drink each day. Good liquids include water, fruit juice, and broth.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for your child to breathe and help decrease his or her cough.

How can I help prevent the spread of the flu?

  • Have your child wash his or her hands often. Use soap and water. Encourage your child to wash his or her hands after he or she uses the bathroom, coughs, or sneezes. Use gel hand cleanser that contains 60% alcohol, when soap and water are not available. Teach your child to wash his or her hands before touching his or her eyes, ears, and mouth.
  • Teach your child to cover his or her mouth when sneezing or coughing. Show your child how to cough into a tissue or the bend of his or her arm. If your child uses a tissue, have him or her throw it away immediately. Then have your child wash his or her hands.
  • Clean shared items with a germ-killing cleaner. Clean table surfaces, doorknobs, and light switches. Do not let your child share towels, silverware, or dishes with people who are sick. Wash bed sheets, towels, silverware, and dishes with soap and water.
  • Your child should wear a mask over his or her mouth and nose when sick. The face mask may help protect others from becoming infected with the flu. He or she should wear the mask when in common areas in your home. The mask should also be worn when your child is in his or her healthcare provider's office.
  • Keep your child home if he or she is sick. Keep your child home until his or her fever and symptoms are gone for 24 hours.
  • Get your child vaccinated. The influenza vaccine helps prevent influenza (flu). Everyone 6 months or older should get a yearly influenza vaccine. Get the vaccine as soon as recommended each year, usually in September or October. Your child will need 2 vaccines during the first year of the vaccine. The 2 vaccines should be given 4 or more weeks apart. It is best if the same type of vaccine is given both times.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • Your child has fast breathing, trouble breathing, or chest pain.
  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child does not want to be held and does not respond to you.
  • You cannot wake your child.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child has a fever with a rash.
  • Your child's skin is blue or gray.
  • Your child's symptoms got better, but then came back with a fever or a worse cough.
  • Your child will not drink liquids, is not urinating, or has no tears when he or she cries.
  • Your child has trouble breathing, a cough, and vomits blood.
  • Your child's symptoms get worse.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child has new symptoms, such as muscle pain or weakness.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2020 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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