Dec 30, 2014, 2:41:11 PM CST Mar 20, 2023, 2:46:56 PM CDT

Your guide to preventing and treating the flu

An estimated 8% of the U.S. population gets the flu each year. Learn tips for preventing the flu in children.


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 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.

Flu prevention tips for kids

The number one way to prevent flu in kids is to ensure everyone in your family (over 6 months old) receives the flu shot. Some people may be eligible to receive a nasal mist flu vaccine. If your child has had fear or anxiety with shots in the past, read these tips for making vaccination visits go more smoothly.

Here are some more ways you can help prevent flu in kids and keep your family healthy during flu season:

  1. Practice good hand hygiene with soap and water or hand sanitizer
  2. Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze
  3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as germs spread this way
  4. Try to avoid close contact with sick people
  5. Stay home from school, work and errands when you are sick
  6. Clean and disinfect surfaces

Myth: Busted
“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:

  1. Fever, feverish chills or sweats
  2. Congestion
  3. Stuffy or runny nose
  4. Sore throat
  5. Coughing
  6. Headaches
  7. Muscle or body aches
  8. Fatigue and weakness
  9. Vomiting and diarrhea are more common in children than adults

When to go to the hospital for flu

father taking sick daughters temperatureThe 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.

If your child has any of 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.

The number one way to prevent the flu is to ensure everyone in your family gets the flu shot. See 7 ways to prevent the flu via @Childrens.

Get care now

We know that getting sick is never convenient. But now you can videoconference with a health care provider 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with Virtual Visit by Children's Health Virtual Care. Get treated right from your smartphone, tablet or computer for allergies, common colds and flu, cuts and more. Download the Virtual Visit app today.

Screen capture of family newsletter signup

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the Children's Health Family Newsletter.

Children's Health will not sell, share or rent your information to third parties. Please read our privacy policy.

Children's Health Family Newsletter

Get health tips and parenting advice from Children's Health experts sent straight to your inbox twice a month.

common cold, communicable disease, fever, flu, flu season, infectious diseases, influenza, microbiology, epidemiology, vaccine, virus

Childrens Health