The flu is caused by flu viruses. Flu viruses are divided into 3 types:
A flu virus is often passed from child to child through sneezing or coughing. The virus can also live for a short time on surfaces. This includes doorknobs, toys, pens or pencils, keyboards, phones and tablets, and countertops. It can also be passed through shared eating utensils and drinking. Your child can get a flu virus by touching something that was touched by an infected with person, and then touching his or her mouth, nose, or eyes.
People are most contagious with the flu 24 hours before symptoms start, continuing while symptoms are most active. The risk of infecting others usually stops around day 7 of the illness. Because the flu can be spread before symptoms start, it’s easy to pick up a flu virus. This is true especially with children, who often touch many surfaces and then their mouth, nose, or eyes.
A child is more at risk for the flu if he or she:
Young children and children with certain underlying health conditions are at increased risk for a hospital stay or severe or complicated influenza infection.
The flu is a respiratory disease, but it can affect the whole body. A child can become suddenly ill with any or all of these symptoms:
In some cases, your child may also have symptoms such as:
Most children recover from the flu within a week. But they may still feel very tired for as long as 3 to 4 weeks.
It’s important to note that a cold and the flu have different symptoms:
A cold is usually mild and often goes away after a few days. The flu can cause severe symptoms and lead to problems such as pneumonia and even death. The symptoms of the flu can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. The goal of treatment is to help prevent or ease symptoms.
Treatment may include medicines such as:
Antibiotics aren’t effective against viral infections, so they are not prescribed. Instead, treatment focuses on helping ease your child’s symptoms until the illness passes.
Talk with your healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines.
Also make sure your child:
The best way to prevent flu is to have the yearly flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is given as a shot (injection). A nasal spray is also available but is not recommended for the 2016-2017 flu season. The CDC says this is because the nasal spray did not seem to protect against the flu over the last several flu seasons.
Each year, a new flu vaccine is available before the start of the flu season. Talk with your healthcare provider if you have questions about how vaccines work and how well they prevent flu. The first time a child between the ages of 6 months and 8 years gets a flu vaccine, he or she will need a second flu vaccine one month later.
The vaccine is advised for all children 6 months and older. But for some children, it’s more critical for them to get a flu shot. The flu shot should be given to any child who has any of these:
A flu shot should also be given to:
Some side effects of the vaccine can be like mild flu symptoms, but the vaccine does not cause the flu. Possible side effects of the flu vaccine include:
In addition to the flu vaccine, you can do other things to help reduce your child’s risk of getting the flu. You can also:
And you can help prevent your child spreading the flu to others if you:
Call the healthcare provider if your child has:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider: