Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a viral infection that affects 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 touching your mouth, eyes or nose can spread germs. The flu virus is contagious 24 hours before symptoms appear and 5 to 7 days after a person gets sick.
The number one way to prevent getting the flu is to ensure everyone in your family (over 6-months old) receives the flu shot. Learn more ways to keep your family healthy during flu season.
Flu prevention tips
- Get a flu shot
- Practice good hand hygiene with soap and water or 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 school, work 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. See the truth behind cold and flu myths.
Symptoms of the flu
At first, the flu can be easily mistaken for a common cold. If your symptoms come on very quickly, it's more likely to be the flu.
Flu symptoms in children 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 to go to the hospital for flu
The flu can usually be treated at home with rest and lots of liquids. However, 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 or diabetes have an increased risk for problems associated with the flu.
If you are concerned about your child's symptoms, you should call your primary care doctor first. They understand your child's medical history and specific needs best.
However, if your child has the following symptoms, promptly take them to the ER:
- Difficulty breathing
- Unresponsive or not interacting
- Fever with rash
- Excessive or severe vomiting
- Won't drink liquids
- Blue or gray skin coloring
- Appears dehydrated with dry lips, sunken eyes or decreased urination
- Flu-like symptoms that have improved, but return with a fever and worse cough
Like with older children, it is often better for 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
- Irritable and does not want to be held
- Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal
Learn more about when to call the doctor and when to take your child to the hospital for the flu.
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