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The Flu: Seasonal Influenza 2015–2016

What is the flu?

The influenza (flu) virus causes serious illness that may result in hospitalization or death. It mostly affects the breathing system but may also affect the whole body. The flu season usually starts in the fall and ends in the spring. Talk with your doctor about getting vaccinated at the start of the season (late summer or early fall) so that you are protected during the whole season.  

People can get the flu more than once per season and many times in their lives. Influenza viruses are unpredictable. They are always changing over time and from year to year. As many as 4 flu viruses are expected to make children sick again this flu season.  

Signs of the flu

All flu viruses cause a respiratory illness that can last a week or more. Flu symptoms include:  

  • A sudden fever (usually above 101°F [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 vomit and have diarrhea. Talk with your child's doctor if your child has ear pain, a cough that will not go away, or a fever that will not go away. There can be serious complications, even death, from the flu, but these are uncommon.  

How to prevent the flu

Get the flu vaccine every year. Safe vaccines are made each year to protect against the flu. Everyone should get the vaccine as soon as it is on hand in your community.  

This year's flu vaccine includes 3 strains (trivalent) or 4 strains (quadrivalent) of the virus.  

The trivalent vaccine protects against 1 strain from last year and 2 new strains. These are:

  • Influenza A (H1N1)
  • Influenza A (H3N2)
  • Influenza B 

The quadrivalent vaccine protects against the same 3 strains as the trivalent vaccine, and it adds a second influenza B strain (the same one added to last season's quadrivalent vaccine). One flu vaccine is not preferred over another.  

The number of vaccine doses your child needs this year depends on his age at the time the first dose is given as well as his flu vaccine history.  

  • Children 9 years and older need only 1 dose.
  • Children 6 months through 8 years of age
    • Need 2 doses if they received fewer than 2 doses of flu vaccine before July 1, 2015. This includes children getting the flu vaccine for the first time.
    • Need only 1 dose if they received 2 or more doses of flu vaccine before July 1, 2015.

Everyone should get the flu vaccine each year to update their protection because:  

  • Protection from the flu vaccine lasts for only about 6 to 12 months.
  • The virus strains in the vaccine often change.

Vaccination is especially important for:  

  • All children, including infants born preterm, who are 6 months and older with conditions that increase the risk of complications from the flu
  • Children of American Indian or Alaska Native heritage
  • All household contacts and out-of-home care professionals of children with high-risk conditions and children younger than 5 years (especially infants younger than 6 months)
  • All health care personnel
  • All child care professionals and staff
  • All women who are pregnant, are considering pregnancy, are in the postpartum period, or are breastfeeding during the flu season

Who should get which flu vaccine?

There are 2 types of flu vaccine:  

  • Inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV) is given as a shot. There are 2 kinds of shots. The intramuscular (into the muscle) shot is licensed and recommended for children 6 months and older and adults, including people with and without chronic medical conditions. The intradermal (into the skin) shot is licensed for use only in people 18 through 64 years of age.  
  • Live-attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) is sprayed into the nose. LAIV is licensed for use in healthy people 2 years and older.  

Both types of flu vaccine are very safe and work well to protect your child from the flu. Neither vaccine is preferred over the other. Check with your doctor about which is best for your child and family.  

Does the flu vaccine have any side effects?

The flu vaccine has very few side effects. The area where the IIV flu shot is given may be sore for 1 or 2 days. Fever may occur within 24 hours in about 10% to 35% of children younger than 2 years but rarely occurs in older children and adults.  

Because LAIV is sprayed into the nose, your child might get a stuffy, runny nose within the first few days. LAIV may also produce mild symptoms, including headache, wheezing, vomiting, muscle aches, and fever.  

You or your children will not get the flu from the vaccine. It takes 2 weeks for the vaccine to start working, so people can catch the flu before they are protected.  

Is the flu vaccine safe for children with egg allergies?

Yes! Studies show that IIV given in one, age-appropriate dose is well tolerated by nearly all children and adults who have egg allergies. LAIV is not currently recommended for children with egg allergies. Check with your doctor if you have questions.  

  • Children with a history of mild egg allergies (hives) can get the flu vaccine safely at their doctor's office. They should be observed in office for 30 minutes after getting the vaccine. 
  • Children with a history of severe egg allergies should have their doctor consult with an expert in allergy before getting the flu vaccine. 

When should my child get the flu vaccine?

The best time to get the flu vaccine is the late summer or early fall or as soon as it is on hand in your community. If your child does not get the flu vaccine right away, it is still important to get it any time. The flu virus infects people in the fall, in the winter, and well into the spring each year. Your child can still be protected if she gets a flu vaccine as late as March or April or through June. Ask your doctor if you have any questions about the flu vaccine.  

Keep flu germs from spreading

The flu virus spreads easily through the air with coughing and sneezing or through touching things such as doorknobs or toys and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Here are some tips that will help protect your family from getting sick.  

  • Everyone should wash their hands often. You can use soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. That is about as long as singing the "Happy Birthday" song 2 times. An alcohol-based hand cleanser or sanitizer works well too. Put enough on your hands to make them wet. Then rub them together until dry.
  • Teach your children to cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Show your children how to cough into the elbow or upper sleeve (not a hand) or use a tissue.
  • Throw used tissues into the trash right away.
  • Wash dishes and utensils in hot, soapy water or the dishwasher.
  • Do not share items such as toothbrushes, pacifiers, cups, spoons, forks, washcloths, or towels.
  • Teach your children to try not to touch their eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Wash doorknobs, toilet handles, countertops, and toys. Use a disinfectant wipe or a cloth with soap and hot water to help kill germs.

What if my child gets the flu?

Call the doctor right away if your child shows any signs of the flu and:

  • Is 3 months or younger and has a fever
  • Has fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Looks very sick
  • Is more sleepy than usual
  • Is very fussy no matter what you do
  • Cannot or will not drink anything
  • Urinates very little

You should also call the doctor if your child shows signs of the flu and has a chronic medical condition, such as:

  • Asthma, diabetes, or heart problems
  • Sickle cell disease, cancer, HIV, or another disease that makes it hard to fight infections
  • Cerebral palsy or other neurologic disorders of the brain and muscles that make it harder to cough up mucus and breathe
  • Morbid obesity (being very overweight)

Go to the emergency department right away if your child:

  • Has signs of the flu that keep getting worse
  • Has blue skin color
  • Will not wake up at all

Drugs to treat the flu

The doctor may be able to treat the flu with a medicine. These drugs work best against the virus when your child gets them within the first 1 to 2 days of showing signs of the flu.  

Call the doctor within 24 hours to ask about medicine if your child is at high risk of influenza complications because he:  

  • Has a serious health problem, such as asthma, diabetes, sickle cell disease, or cerebral palsy
  • Is younger than 6 months (Flu vaccine is not licensed for this age group.)
  • Is younger than 2 years (Young children are at an increased risk of influenza infection, hospitalization, and complication.)

Help your child feel better

Extra rest and a lot of fluids can help your child feel better. You can also give your child medicine to bring down the fever.  

  • For a baby 6 months or younger, give acetaminophen. Tylenol is one brand of acetaminophen.
  • For a child older than 6 months, give acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Advil and Motrin are brands of ibuprofen.
  • Never give aspirin to any child. Aspirin puts the child at risk for Reye syndrome. This is a serious illness that affects the liver and brain.

Keep your child home

Keep your child home from school or child care when she has a fever and other signs of the flu. Your child needs rest. Plus, your child might give the flu to other children.  

When can my child go back to school or child care?

Your child should stay home until at least 24 hours after his fever is gone. Start counting time after you stop giving your child fever medicines, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. A temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher is a sign of fever. Check with your child's school or child care center to find out its rules about children staying home when they are ill.  



Last Updated
Seasonal Influenza (Flu) 2015–2016 (Copyright © 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics)
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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