According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu season is usually defined as fall and winter. That’s because although influenza viruses that cause the flu exist in the United States all year long, illnesses from the viruses generally start to increase in October and reach a peak somewhere between December through February. That said, flu season can last until May. No matter what time of year it is, it makes sense to know how to respond if your young children catch the flu.
The flu shot, of course, helps to prevent this viral infection from causing illness (here are recommendations about the shot for children). But the flu shot doesn’t guarantee that someone won’t become ill from a season’s flu viruses.
So to help, here are recommended steps to take – ones that start with a visit to your child’s pediatrician. The sooner you can get your child in to see a doctor, the more treatment options are typically available.
Typical Flu Symptoms
VeryWellHealth.com shares common flu symptoms, which include fever. Children, in general, run fevers more often than adults do and with the flu, fevers in children may be higher than in adults. Body aches are also a common symptom, although young children may struggle to explain how that feels. They may tell you, for example, they just don’t feel good or that everything hurts.
Other symptoms include:
- Cough: If your child wheezes when breathing or coughing, contact his or her doctor, as this could be a sign of breathing difficulties, perhaps a complication from the flu.
- Congestion: If your child is experiencing significant congestion, watch for signs of ear and/or sinus infections. To help prevent them, use a quality humidifier, and encourage your child to drink enough water and do enough nose blowing.
- Headache: Young children can’t always describe this symptom clearly, but it’s commonly associated with the flu.
- Sore throat: Intense sore throats are often caused by the flu, but also by strep. If your doctor isn’t sure which it is, your child may be tested so that appropriate treatment can be given.
Your child probably won’t want to eat much with the flu and will likely be tired.
If your child is just experiencing vomiting and diarrhea, perhaps with a fever, that probably isn’t the flu. But if he or she is experiencing those symptoms along with cough and congestion, it very well could be the flu.
A Note About Flu Testing
NationwideChildrens.org shares how medical professionals can typically diagnose the flu without needing to perform any tests, based just on the symptoms. After the diagnosis, your child may or may not be prescribed Tamiflu. Factors going into the decision will include any risk factors as well as when your child is being diagnosed. That’s because Tamiflu works best when it’s given within 24 to 48 hours of symptoms appearing.
Complications from the Flu
Children younger than five are at special risk for complications from the flu, so watch them especially closely. Even in a year with relatively mild flu, 7,000 children are hospitalized each year with this viral infection. During epidemic years, this increases to an average of 26,000 children hospitalized. The CDC provides more information on this subject.