When children are sick, all you want is to help them feel better. With bacterial infections, you might give them antibiotics, but when it comes to viruses like the flu, you may not have many options.
Besides rest and fluids, one safe way to treat the flu in children over 2 weeks old is an antiviral medicine called Tamiflu.
“Tamiflu is a medication that shortens the duration of the illness and the severity of the symptoms by a day or a day and a half,” explains LeAnn Kridelbaugh, M.D., President of Children’s Health℠ Pediatric Group. “It is not going to cure the flu the way an antibiotic cures a bacterial infection.”
Though Tamiflu doesn’t cure the flu, it still might help your child. Tamiflu is most often used for the following purposes.
For flu treatment in high-risk children
Dr. Kridelbaugh says Tamiflu can be an important medicine for kids who are at a high risk for life-threatening flu complications. Your child may be at a high risk if they are younger than 5 or if they have:
- Heart disease
- Metabolic conditions
- Neurologic conditions
- Neuromuscular disorders
Tamiflu may help reduce your child’s risk for severe illness or hospitalization if they have any of these conditions.
For flu prevention in high-risk children
Tamiflu may also help prevent your child from getting the flu if he or she is around another person with the flu. For instance, if your child has asthma and his or her sibling gets the flu, your child with asthma may benefit from taking Tamiflu before he or she even shows symptoms.
Tamiflu may prevent a child from getting the flu or may make the condition less severe if they do contract the flu. Your child can take Tamiflu for up to six weeks.
Your child should also receive a flu shot every year and practice good hand washing to prevent the flu.
For low-risk children who just started flu symptoms
If your child is over the age of 5 and generally healthy, he or she may or may not benefit from using Tamiflu.
“It is most effective if it is administered within 48 hours of flu symptoms starting,” says Dr. Kridelbaugh. “If your child is at day four of five of the flu and is generally healthy, it may not be worth it to start taking Tamiflu at that point.”
Flu symptoms include:
- Fever or feverish chills
- Muscle aches
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
Tamiflu may help your child have these symptoms for about one day less than normal or may make these symptoms less severe.
Does Tamiflu have side effects in children?
Tamiflu rarely has side effects. Side effects may be more common in kids who are intolerant of fructose (fruit sugar). The liquid form of Tamiflu contains sorbitol (a type of fructose) that can rarely cause nausea and vomiting in some kids. Non-liquid forms of Tamiflu do not have this side effect.
If children are generally healthy, it may not be worth risking this side effect; instead, you may want to focus on helping them rest, drink plenty of fluids and heal while their bodies fight off the flu.
“Everyone wants medicine to help make their child feel better,” says Dr. Kridelbaugh. “If it’s a high-risk situation, your child needs to take Tamiflu. If it’s low-risk, we can discuss the medication with parents and let them decide if Tamiflu is right.”
For more questions about diagnosing and treating the flu in your child, contact your Children’s Health pediatrician.
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