Can the Flu Be Prevented?
There’s no guaranteed way — including being vaccinated — to have 100% protection from the flu. But these practical steps make spreading the flu less likely:
• Wash your hands well and often with soap, especially after using the bathroom, after coughing or sneezing, and before eating or preparing food.
• Never pick up used tissues.
• Don’t share cups and eating utensils.
• Stay home from work or school when you’re sick with the flu.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then put it in the trash. If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into your upper arm, not into your hands.
How Is the Flu Treated?
Cases of the flu rarely require specific medical treatment. But some kids with chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or HIV infection) or children under 2 years old might become sicker with the flu and may have a greater risk of complications. Some kids with the flu need to be hospitalized.
For a severely ill child or one who is at higher risk of developing health problems from the flu, a doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine that can shorten the illness by 1–2 days and prevent potential problems of the flu. This medicine is only helpful if given within 48 hours of the start of the flu. Most healthy people who get the flu do not need to take an antiviral medicine. If an antiviral medicine is prescribed, be sure to discuss any possible side effects with your doctor.
These at-home tips can help most otherwise healthy kids cope with the flu. Have them:
- drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration
- get plenty of sleep and take it easy
- take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve fever and aches (do not give aspirin to children or teens because of its association with Reye syndrome)
- wear layers, since the flu often makes them cold one minute and hot the next (wearing layers — like a T-shirt, sweatshirt, and robe — makes it easy to add or remove clothes as needed)
Kids who are sick should stay home from school and childcare until they feel better and have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine. Some might need to stay home longer, depending on how they feel. If you have questions or concerns, talk to your doctor.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Call the doctor if your child:
• has flu symptoms
• has a high fever, or fever with a rash
• has trouble breathing or rapid breathing
• has bluish skin color
• is not drinking enough fluids
• seems very sleepy or lethargic
• seems confused
• has flu symptoms that get better, but then get worse
For the most part, though, the flu is usually gone in a week or two with a little rest and tender loving care.
What Is the Flu?
Influenza, commonly known as “the flu,” is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract. It affects all age groups, though kids tend to get it more often than adults. In the United States, flu season runs from October to May, with most cases happening between late December and early March.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of the Flu?
The flu is often confused with the common cold, but flu symptoms usually are more severe than the typical sneezing and stuffiness of a cold.
Symptoms, which usually begin about 2 days after exposure to the virus, can include:
• muscle aches
• loss of appetite
• sore throat• runny nose
• nausea or vomiting
• ear pain
Infants with the flu also may seem fussy all of a sudden or just “not look right.”
How Long Does the Flu Last?
After 5 days, fever and other symptoms have usually disappeared, but a cough and weakness may continue. All symptoms usually are gone within a week or two.
But it’s important to treat the flu seriously because it can lead to pneumonia and other life-threatening complications, particularly in babies, senior citizens, and people with long-term health problems.
Is the Flu Contagious?
Yes, the flu is contagious. It spreads when virus-infected droplets are coughed or sneezed into the air. People who are infected are contagious from a day before they feel sick until their symptoms are gone (about 1 week for adults, but this can be longer for young kids).
The flu usually happens in small outbreaks, but epidemics — when the illness spreads rapidly and affects many people in an area at the same time — tend to happen every few years. Epidemics often peak within 2 or 3 weeks after the first cases are reported.