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The Flu

Protect Your Child From Flu Protect Your Child From Flu

​Flu is the short term for influenza. It is an illness caused by a respiratory virus. The flu can spread rapidly through communities, as the virus is passed person to person.

When someone with the flu coughs or sneezes, the influenza virus gets into the air, and people nearby, including children, can inhale it through the nose or mouth.

The virus also can be spread when a child touches a contaminated hard surface, such as a door handle, and then places his hand or fingers in his nose or mouth or rubs his eye.

When is flu season?

The flu season usually starts in the fall and ends in the spring. When there is an outbreak or epidemic, usually during the winter months, the illness tends to be most frequent in preschool or school-aged children. Parents and caregivers are easily exposed and can come down with the flu, as it is transmitted in the first few days of the illness.​

Flu symptoms include:

  • A sudden fever (usually above 101°F or 38.3°C)

  • Chills and body shakes

  • Headache, body aches, and being a lot more tired than usual

  • Sore throat

  • Dry, hacking cough

  • Stuffy, runny nose

  • Some children may throw up (vomit) and have loose stools (diarrhea).

After the first few days of these symptoms, a sore throat, stuffy nose, and continuing cough become most evident. The flu can last a week or even longer. A child with a common cold usually has only a low-grade fever, a runny nose, and only a small amount of coughing. Children with the flu—or adults, for that matter—usually feel much sicker, achier, and more miserable.​

​Children with chronic health conditions at greater risk:

Children who appear to have the greatest risk of complications from the flu are those with an underlying chronic medical condition, such as lung, heart, or kidney disease, an immune system problem, diabetes mellitus, some blood diseases, or malignancy.

As these children may have more severe disease or complications, they should be vaccinated and, when possible, avoid other children with the flu or flu-like symptoms. Their pediatrician may suggest additional precautions that should be taken.

If your child has any of these chronic health conditions and flu-like symptoms along with any difficulty breathing, seek medical attention right away. There can be serious complications, even death, from the flu, but thanks to the flu vaccine these are less common. See Flu: A Guide for Parents of Children and Adolescents with Chronic Health Conditions.

Flu treatment

Children may benefit from extra rest and drinking lots of fluids when they get the flu.

If your child is uncomfortable because of a fever, acetaminophen or ibuprofen in doses recommended by your pediatrician for his age and weight will help him feel better. Ibuprofen is approved for use in children six months of age and older; however, it should never be given to children who are dehydrated or who are vomiting continuously.

It is extremely important never to give aspirin to a child who has the flu or is suspected of having the flu. Aspirin during bouts of influenza is associated with an increased risk of developing Reye syndrome.​

​Antiviral medications are available by prescription to treat an influenz​a infection.

Your pediatrician can help decide whether or not to treat the flu with an antiviral medicine. Antiviral medications work best if started within the first 1 to 2 days of showing signs of the flu. However, in some children with increased risk for influenza complications, treatment could be started later.

Call your pediatrician within 24 hours of the first flu symptom to ask about antiviral medications if your child:

  • Has an underlying health problem like asthma or other chronic lung disease, a heart condition, diabetes, sickle cell disease, a weakened immune system, a neuromuscular condition such as cerebral palsy, or other medical conditions.

  • Is younger than 6 month old.

  • Is younger than 5 years old, especially if less than 2 years old.

  • Has symptoms that are not improving.

Flu recovery and complications

Healthy people, especially children, get over the flu in about a week or two, without any lingering problems. Talk with your child's doctor if you suspect a complication like ear pain, pressure in your child's face and head, or a cough and fever that will not go away.

Flu prevention

Everyone should get the flu vaccine each year to update their protection. It is the best way to prevent getting the flu. Safe vaccines are made each year and the best time to get the flu vaccine is by the end of October, before the flu virus starts circulating in your community.

The flu vaccine is especially important for:

  • Children, including infants born preterm, who are 6 months to 5 years of age,

  • Children of any age with chronic medical conditions that increase the risk of complications from the flu

  • Children of American Indian/Alaskan Native heritage

  • All contacts and care providers of children with high risk conditions and children younger than 5 years (especially newborns and infants younger than 6 months because these young infants are not able to receive their own vaccination)

  • All health care personnel

  • All women who are pregnant, are considering pregnancy, have recently delivered, or are breastfeeding during the flu season

The flu virus spreads easily through the air with coughing and sneezing, and through touching things like doorknobs or toys and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Click here for some tips that will help protect your family from getting sick.

Flu vaccine

Both the inactivated (killed) vaccine, also called the “flu shot," given by injection in the muscle, and the live-attenuated nasal spray vaccine, can be used for influenza vaccination this season. There is no preference for a product or formulation. Any of these vaccines should be given as available in your area.

All flu vaccines available for children this year contain 4 flu virus strains: two influenza A and two influenza B virus strains.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that an influenza vaccine be given annually to all children starting at six months of age. Children 6 months through 8 years old need two doses of the vaccine given at least four weeks apart. Children 9 years of age and older only need one dose.

Flu vaccines are especially important for children at high risk for complications from the flu such as those with a chronic disease such as asthma or other lung diseases, heart disease, decreased immune system function due to a primary condition or from medications such as steroids, renal disease, or diabetes mellitus.

All eligible children may receive the flu vaccine that is appropriate for their age and health status, based on licensed indications. All adults also should receive the flu vaccine yearly; this is especially important for adults who live in the same household as someone who has a high risk for flu complications or who care for children under the age of five.

Side effects from the flu vaccine

The flu vaccine has few side effects, the most common being fever and redness, soreness or swelling at the injection site for the flu shot, or runny nose, congestion and sore throat for the nasal spray vaccine.

Children with egg allergies can receive the flu vaccine. Children with a previous allergic reaction after a dose of flu vaccine should be seen by an allergist. The allergist can help parents decide if their child should receive an annual flu vaccination.

Additional Information & Resources:

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2020)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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