I Think My Child Has the Flu

Sept. 25, 2013

Flu symptoms are never fun. Learn what to do when your child gets sick and when to get the flu shot.

The flu. Words that cause any parent to shudder. When your child has influenza, your world can stop spinning as you try to provide care and comfort.

But often people use the term "the flu" to refer to different types of sicknesses. It's not always easy to separate flu from another severe respiratory virus, especially as they all come around the same time of year.

We asked experts Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, professor of pediatrics, division of infectious diseases, at Stanford University School of Medicine, and Dr. Richard Whitley, a professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, for advice on know how to figure out if your child has the flu and what to do about it.

"Attention to influenza cannot be ignored by parents or by the community," said Whitley, who is also a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America's Influenza Advisory Group. "We have had people die from the flu who never should have died."

  1. Is This the Flu or a Cold?
    "With a cold you will get a runny nose, watery or itchy eyes, a cough," says Maldonado. "You are still infectious, but you won't have a fever."

    But with the flu, your entire body feels awful and you will have a fever. With a cold, your child might not want to do much, but with the flu, they can't do anything but rest.

    If flu is in your community and your child comes down with a fever and illness, you need to consider that it's influenza, says Whitley.

  2. What Can I Do?
    If children are treated immediately with antiviral medications, the severity and length of their symptoms can be reduced by up to a day. There is some indication that antivirals reduce the number and severity of complications as well, shares Maldonado. Tamiflu, for instance, can reduce the number of otitis media (ear) infections by 45 to 50 percent with a flu infection, says Whitley. But for antivirals to work, they have to be given within 24 hours of the symptoms beginning.

  3. Isn't the Flu Just a Bad Cold?
    "The flu is a very important infection because it causes some pretty substantial complications," says Maldonado. The biggest complications include things like pneumonia, bronchitis and ear infections, she says. Even healthy children can die from flu complications.

  4. Does the Flu Vaccine Cause the Flu?
    You won't get the flu from the vaccine, but that doesn't mean something else won't make you sick, says Whitley. "There are a lot of overlapping viral infections that come out at the same time as the flu," says Whitley. Expect the injection site to be sore or even red for a few days.

  5. Can You Get Vaccinated and Still Get the Flu?
    "No vaccine is 100 percent effective," says Maldonado. "In general, the effectiveness of the vaccine is 60 to 100 percent, depending on the year, the population and the age of the patient." Even if the year's vaccine isn't 100 percent effective, it still reduces the number of flu infections and deaths. If you get vaccinated and still get the flu, your symptoms will be less severe, last for a shorter time and will run the risk of fewer complications as a result.

  6. Who Should Get Vaccinated?
    Anyone older than 6 months should get vaccinated. The first flu vaccination needs to be given in two doses, and that is followed by an annual, one-time vaccination. If your child is needle-averse, try the inhaled, intranasal vaccine (not recommended for children with asthma). Get immunized in the fall months to allow the vaccine time to fully protect you during flu season.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is an award-winning freelance writer and a mom to two girls. She lives in Massachusetts and has written for local and national publications.

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan.  Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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