The Flu: A Guide for Parents
According to Trinity Director of Nursing & Infection Control, Christine Daugherty, Influenza (also known as flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also notes the flu is different than a cold and usually comes on suddenly and causes millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospital stays. The flu is even known to cause deaths in high-risk patients.
What parents should know
How serious is flu?
The CDC notes that while flu season can vary from mild to severe, children often need medical care because of flu. Children younger than 5 years and children of any age with certain long-term health problems are at high risk of flu complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections. Some health problems are known to make children more vulnerable to the flu including asthma, diabetes, and disorders of the brain or nervous system.
How does flu spread?
Daugherty with THTC explains that most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouth or nose of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes.
What are flu symptoms?
Flu can cause mild to severe illness and at times can even lead to death. Those who have flu often feel some or all of the following:
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
- Sometimes diarrhea and vomiting
Daugherty adds that the time from when a person is exposed and infected with flu to when symptoms begin is about 2 days but can range from about 1 to 4 days. She also stressed the importance of understanding that not everyone with the flu will have a fever.
What about contagiousness?
An infected person is able to pass on flu to someone else before they even know they are sick, as well as when they are sick.
- People with flu are most contagious in the first 3-4 days after their illness begins.
- Some otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick.
- Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others with flu viruses for an even longer time.
Protect your child
How can I protect my child from the flu?
The first and best way to protect against flu is to get a yearly flu vaccine for yourself and your child, according to both the CDC and Daugherty with THTC.
- Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months and older every year. Flu shots and nasal spray flu vaccines are both options for vaccinations.
- It’s especially important that young children and children with certain long-term health problems get vaccinated.
- Caregivers of children at high risk of flu complications should get a flu vaccine. (Babies younger than 6 months are at high risk for serious flu complications, but too young to get a flu vaccine).
- Pregnant women should get a flu vaccine to protect themselves and their baby from flu. Research shows that flu vaccination protects the baby from flu for several months after birth.
- Flu viruses are constantly changing, and so flu vaccines are updated often to protect against the flu viruses that research indicates are most likely to cause illness during the upcoming flu season.
Is flu vaccine safe?
Flu vaccines are made using strict safety and production measures, according to the CDC. Officials explain that millions of people have safely received flu vaccines for decades. Different types of flu vaccines are licensed for different ages and each person is directed to receive a vaccine appropriate for their age. CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend an annual flu vaccine for all children 6 months and older.
What are the benefits of getting a flu vaccine?
- A flu vaccine can keep you and your child from getting sick. When vaccine viruses and circulating viruses are matched, flu vaccination has been shown to reduce the risk of getting sick with flu by about half.
- Flu vaccines can keep your child from being hospitalized from flu. One recent study showed that flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit admission by 74%.
- Flu vaccine can prevent our child from dying from flu. A study using data from recent flu seasons found that flu vaccine reduced the risk of flu-associated death by half among children with high-risk medical conditions and by nearly two-thirds among children without medical conditions.
- Flu vaccinations also may make your illness milder if you do get sick.
- Getting yourself and your child vaccinated also can protect others. You’ll be protecting others who may be more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people, and people with certain long-term health problems.
Complications of Flu
Daugherty notes the complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.
What are some other ways I can protect my child against flu?
- Stay away from people who are sick as much as possible to keep from getting sick yourself.
- If you or your child are sick, avoid others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- Regularly cover your coughs and sneezes; wash your hands often; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; and clean surfaces that may be contaminated with flu viruses.
If your child is sick
What can I do if my child gets sick?
Talk t your doctor early if you are worried about your child’s illness. Make sure your child gets plenty of rest and drinks enough fluids.
The CDC also recommends that if your child is 5 years or older and does not have a long-term health problem and gets flu symptoms, including a fever and/or a cough, consult your doctor as needed.
Children younger than 5 years of age – especially those younger than 2 years – and children with certain long-term health problems (including asthma, diabetes, and disorders of the brain or nervous system), are at high risk of serious flu complications. Call your doctor or take your child to the doctor right away if they develop flu symptoms.
What if my child seems very sick?
Even healthy children can get very sick from flu. If your child is experiencing the following emergency warning signs, you should go to the emergency room:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing.
- Bluish or gray skin color.
- Not drinking enough fluids (not going to the bathroom or not making as much urine as they normally do).
- Severe or persistent vomiting.
- Not waking up or not interacting.
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held.
- Flu symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
- Fever with a rash.
Is there a medicine to treat flu?
Yes. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that can be used to treat flu illness. They can shorten your illness and make it milder, and they can prevent serious complications that could result in a hospital stay. Antivirals work best when started during the first 2 days of illness.
Antiviral drugs are recommended to treat flu in people who are very sick (for example, people who are in the hospital) or people who are at high risk of serious flu complications who get flu symptoms. Antivirals can be given to children and pregnant women.
Can my child go to school, day care, or camp if he or she is sick?
The CDC says no. Your child should stay home to rest and to avoid spreading flu to other children or caregivers.
When can my child go back to school after having flu?
The CDC recommends keeping your child home from school, day care, or camp for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone. (The fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine). A fever is defined as 100 degrees F or higher.