Most parents would agree: When your child is heartbroken or ill, you want nothing more than to take away their pain. What’s worse than seeing your kid suffer with vomiting, chills, and fever for days on end? You wish you could steal that flu away from them!
Sadly, there is no magic cure or perfect pill. But there are some special considerations for the influenza virus in kids, and our expert Marc S. Itskowitz, MD, physician in internal medicine for Allegheny Health Network, explains more about this serious illness that commonly strikes families this time of year.
The influenza virus causes fevers, body aches, headache, sore throat, and other troublesome symptoms. It comes on suddenly, severely, and quite commonly in the fall and winter months. For children having a severe case, a trip to the hospital may be needed. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that since 2010, flu-related hospitalizations in the U.S. among children younger than 5 ranged from 7,000 to 26,000.1
So why is this virus such a big problem for kids? Well, let’s face it: they might not be the most hygienic creatures on the planet! The flu virus is very contagious, often passed through sneezing or coughing. Children aren’t always the best at covering their mouths and noses or sneezing into their shirtsleeves. They also can be careless with used tissues, and rush through hand-washing. Kids are notorious for sharing cups and snacks, and also frequently touch their mouths, noses, and eyes with germ-covered fingers.
If you think about all the spots in school germs reside—water fountains, pencils, tablets, chairs, and doorknobs, to name a few—you’ll see plenty of opportunities for flu transmission. This time of year especially, stock up on disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer, explaining to your kids the importance of good hygiene. Talk to school administrators or teachers about how they manage the influx of germs during the colder months.
According to Dr. Itskowitz, the most common myth surrounding the flu is that a child can actually get the flu from the vaccine. This is false! It’s an inactivated vaccine that cannot cause the illness in children or adults. The most important and preventive measure parents can take to keep their children healthy is scheduling that flu shot. It’s recommended for all individuals over 6 months of age, so set a good example and get yours, too. During the 2016-17 flu season, vaccination averted an estimated 5.29 million illnesses, 2.64 million medical visits, and 84,700 influenza-associated hospitalizations, according to the CDC.2
While pediatricians often schedule flu shot clinics for young children, pharmacies offer them for walk-in patients usually starting in September. There’s no reason to wait, but getting one late is better than not getting one at all.
Another myth, says Dr. Itskowitz, is that the flu is like an upper respiratory infection or “common cold.” While they’re both respiratory illnesses, they are caused by different viruses. Flu’s intense symptoms—including fever and aches—are often moderate to severe, meaning your child will not be able to attend school or even function well for at least a few days. Cold symptoms are typically milder and do not result in any serious health problems. Runny or stuffy nose is often the prominent cold symptom.
The most important tip for families to stay healthy is to vaccinate everyone against the flu virus and to practice good hand hygiene. For your child’s immune system to work well, prioritize good nutrition and plenty of sleep each night.
Caretaking and complications
Your child likely has the flu if she has fast onset of fever, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, and fatigue this time of year. Kids under age 5—especially those under 2—are at high risk of complications. Many of these patients, especially toddlers who can’t verbalize their symptoms, may cry, whine, and fuss. Young children can also develop higher fevers (103 to 105 degrees F), seizures, and have more belly disturbances like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and poor appetite, Dr. Itskowitz explains.
Complications in this group can include pneumonia, breathing problems, dehydration, and sinus or ear infections. While rare, the flu in kids can lead to death. So stay on top of hydrating your child, monitoring demeanor and general condition, and keeping her comfortable for bed rest.
Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen to lessen both fever and body aches. A pediatrician may prescribe cough medicine for symptom relief, or antiviral medication, which can shorten the length of the illness if given within two days of the symptoms’ start. Remember that antibiotics only treat bacterial infections and will have no effect on the flu virus.
While you can’t cure your child’s viral sickness, you can help prevent or ease flu symptoms. Talk to a Teladoc physician 24 hours a day about your child’s condition and specific symptoms. If medically necessary, our doctors can send a prescription to your nearest pharmacy. Log in to your account to update your family’s medical profile for future care, or to request a visit for your child today. Your family will be back in good health soon enough.
Check out more on back to school illnesses