Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a viral infection that infects the lungs, mouth and throat. It isn't the same as a stomach "flu," which is the result of viruses in the gastrointestinal tract.
Coughing, sneezing or even touching your mouth, eyes or nose can spread germs. The flu virus is contagious from the day before symptoms show up until 5 to 7 days after a person gets sick.
Children’s Health℠ is here to help you when cold and flu season hits. The number one way to not get the flu is to ensure everyone in your family six-months and older receives the flu shot.
Tips to help stay flu-free:
- Get a flu shot
- Practice good hand hygiene with soap and water, or if not available use hand sanitizer.
- Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- Stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces.
“I heard my child could get the flu from the flu vaccine. Is that true?”
No. The injectable flu vaccine is an inactivated (killed) virus, so a child CANNOT catch the flu from a flu shot. If your child has not received the flu shot, please visit one of our Children’s Health Pediatric locations.
At first, the flu can be easily mistaken for a common cold. A sign that it's the flu is that the symptoms usually come on very quickly.
Flu symptoms include:
- Fever, feverish chills or sweats
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Sore throat
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue and weakness
- Vomiting and diarrhea are more common in children than adults
When and when not to see a doctor
The flu can usually be treated at home with rest and lots of liquids, but complications from the illness can be serious or even life-threatening for certain children. Very young children and those with chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes are at increased risk for problems associated with the flu.
A concerned parent’s first call should be to their child’s primary care physician, as they best understand your child’s medical history and specific needs. Unfortunately, many parents bring sick children to the emergency room (ER), which can lead to long wait times and expose healthy children to the virus. In fact, healthy family members should avoid the emergency room if possible during flu season to avoid infection.
It is important to know that everyone with the flu will have a fever. Adults and older kids usually respond well to ibuprofen or acetaminophen. However, if your child shows the following behaviors, promptly take them to the ER:
- Difficulty breathing
- Unresponsive or not interacting
- Fever with rash
- Excessive or severe vomiting
- Appears dehydrated with dry lips, sunken eyes or decreased urination
- Blue or gray skin coloring
- Won't drink liquids
- An irritable baby that doesn't want to be held
- Flu-like symptoms that have improved, but return with a fever and worse cough
Like with older children, it is often better for new parents to take their newborn to a pediatrician rather than the ER, unless they are exhibiting any of the following behaviors:
- Unable to eat
- Trouble breathing
- No tears when crying
- Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal
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