It’s that time of year – flu season. We are seeing many cases of Influenza at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. But hopefully, your child will not be one of them. Here is some information about influenza to help you keep your child healthy this flu season.
What is Influenza?
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses, which cause mild to severe symptoms and in some cases, lead to hospitalization and even death. There are two types of influenza viruses, A and B. Both cause seasonal outbreaks each year, known as the influenza or flu season. The flu season usually starts in the fall and can last until the end of spring. When there is an outbreak or epidemic in the winter months, the illness tends to be more frequent in preschool and school-aged children; however, it can spread quickly among teens and college students, too.
Who is Most at Risk from the Flu?
Children younger than five years old, especially those younger than two years old, and children and adolescents with certain underlying conditions (such as chronic respiratory conditions) are at highest risk of developing complications from the flu. That is why it is highly recommended that these children get an influenza vaccine. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children get a flu vaccine annually starting at six months of age.
What are the Symptoms of the Flu?
Symptoms of the flu include:
- Sudden fever (usually above 100.4 Fahrenheit)
- Body aches
- Being more tired than usual
- Sore throat
- Congestion/stuffy nose
- Dry, hacking cough
- Some children may have vomiting or diarrhea
After the first few days of symptoms, the sore throat, stuffy nose, and dry cough often become more prominent.
How Long Does the Flu Last?
The flu can usually last a week or even longer. You can distinguish the flu from the common cold because typically, children with the common cold have only a low-grade fever, runny nose, and small amount of coughing, and symptoms only last a few days. Children with influenza are much sicker, achier, and more miserable.
Is there Treatment for the Flu?
Some things can improve your child’s symptoms. Children will benefit from extra rest and drinking more fluids. If your child is uncomfortable due to the fever, acetaminophen or ibuprofen (for children six months or older) may help. Make sure to check that you are using the correct dosages of both. Do NOT give aspirin because children with influenza can develop a condition called Reye syndrome, which is very serious.
Because the flu is a virus, antibiotics are not effective in treatment. However, there is a prescription antiviral medication for influenza, and it can be helpful if taken during the first 1-2 days of symptoms. If you feel your child’s symptoms just started, talk to your pediatrician about getting your child tested for influenza and potentially starting the medication. The medication is especially recommended in children at most risk for severe illness from the flu (children under five years old, those with underlying health conditions, or those around others who are at risk for severe complications from flu).
You should talk to your pediatrician if your child’s symptoms last longer than a week or if they develop new symptoms, such as ear pain or pressure in their head that do not go away.
When is the Flu an Emergency?
The flu is an emergency if your child develops symptoms such as trouble breathing or unusual rapid breathing, pale, grey, or blue-colored lips or skin, ribs that look like they pull in with each breath, chest pain, muscle pain so severe that they refuse to walk, dehydration (no urination for eight hours and dry lips/mouth/skin), not interacting with you while awake, seizures, or any fever in a child less than 12 weeks old. In these cases, go to the emergency department immediately!
How can we Prevent the Flu?
As always, good hand hygiene is important to prevent the flu, as well as staying home if you or your child are having any symptoms and keeping your child out of school/childcare while having any symptoms. However, getting the influenza vaccine each year is the best way to prevent the flu. If your child hasn’t gotten it yet, ask your pediatrician if it would still be helpful. There are both shot and nasal spray versions, and they start to have a protective effect about two weeks after they are given. The influenza vaccine has very few side effects and can be given to all children older than six months, even those with egg allergies. The vaccine is also recommended while pregnant and for healthcare workers.
If your child begins to have flu-like symptoms, our Washington University Children’s After Hours locations provide convenient medical care for your child’s illnesses and injuries as a faster alternative to E.R.s when your pediatrician’s office is closed.
In case of a medical emergency with a child, determine where the nearest accredited, Level I pediatric trauma center is located. St. Louis Children’s Hospital has six pediatric E.R. locations across the St. Louis and southern Illinois region. These include St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital at Memorial Hospital Belleville, Children’s Hospital at Memorial Hospital Shiloh, Children’s Hospital at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, Children’s Hospital at Northwest HealthCare, and Children’s Hospital at Progress West Hospital.
Good luck this flu season! We are here for any questions and to evaluate your child if they are having any symptoms.