What is the flu?

The flu is a contagious illness caused by a respiratory virus. When someone with the flu coughs, it can be inhaled by children nearby. It can also spread by touching contaminated surfaces, like door handles, then touching your face or mouth.

Symptoms include a fever (typically over 101°F), chills, headache, sore throat, cough, runny nose, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Because the flu is a virus, it cannot be cured with a medication. Antibiotics will not work because they kill bacteria. The flu will have to run its course, but you can ease the misery with rest, plenty of liquids, and Tylenol if the fever is over 102°F .

The flu can cause both respiratory symptoms or stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting. Another problem with the flu is frequent infections on the heels of the flu, while a body’s immunity is decreased. Pneumonias and ear infections are often seen 6-10 days after a flu diagnosis.

Duration

Most symptoms of influenza are gone within two weeks. However, it’s important to make sure your child receives plenty of rest and drinks liquids. Tylenol can help reduce pain if their fever is over 102°F.  If you suspect dehydration or if the child has any wheezing or worsening of symptoms, an appointment is needed.

Children are most contagious with a fever, so most schools and daycares request the child to be fever-free for 24 hours without the use of any medicines before returning to school. Remember, the flu is very contagious and the flu virus may circulate airborne for hours.

Call if your child:

  • has flu symptoms
  • has a high fever (over 102 F) for more than 24 hours or fever with a rash
  • has a fever over 104°F
  • has trouble breathing or rapid breathing
  • is not drinking enough fluids
  • has flu symptoms that get better, but then worsen

The single best way to protect your child from the flu is to get them vaccinated every flu season

Children should be vaccinated every flu season.

Getting vaccinated later can still be protective, if flu viruses are circulating. While outbreaks can occur as early as October, most influenza activity peaks in February. It takes about three weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against influenza to develop. Therefore, it’s best to vaccinate your child before influenza spreads throughout the community.

Children younger than 6 months cannot be vaccinated for the flu. The best way to protect them is to ensure the people around them are vaccinated.