Flu symptoms are often mistaken for the common cold; they share similar symptoms of sneezing and congestion but the difference lies in the severity of the flu because it can be potentially life-threatening as the condition worsens. Typically, flu season lasts from October until May (with the most cases seen during February and March), so peak flu season is upon us and the Children’s Wellness Center providers want to make sure you know what to look for in the event your child gets sick! If you find yourself questioning, “Does my child have a cold or the flu?” – here’s what you should know:
- What is the flu? An extremely contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory tracts.
- How long does the flu typically last? Once you’ve come into contact with the flu virus, symptoms generally start to present themselves within a day or two. Initial symptoms can persist for several days (around 5 days) then will start to subside; fatigue and cough however can continue for up to two weeks in some flu cases.
- What are common flu symptoms? Fever, chills, body aches, lack of appetite, fatigue, cough, sore throat, congestion, and runny nose.
- Who can get the flu? Anyone, no matter their age can get the flu. The flu virus can be transmitted through the air if someone who already has the virus coughs or sneezes into the air. Since flu symptoms may not start to show until day two, those infected may not know they’re sick and potentially spread the virus to others unintentionally.
- Can the flu be life-threatening? Yes, the flu can be life-threatening as the virus can lead to pneumonia and additional complications of the lungs and body’s important everyday functioning. Patients who have asthma, children under the age of 5, or those with weak immune systems, are what we may consider high risk, and should take extra precautions during peak flu season to reduce their chances of contagion.
- What should I do if my child gets the flu?
- Give your child plenty of fluids (one of the biggest concerns with a fever is dehydration, so drinking lots of water is key). If you’re having trouble getting your child to drink lots of water, perhaps try giving them popsicles, blended juices and smoothies, soft fruits (like melon and grapes), or icy drinks to supplement.
- Make sure your child gets plenty of rest and restricts their physical activity to not worsen their flu symptoms.
- Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help with your child’s aches and pains but it’s important to note that we DO NOT RECOMMEND giving them aspirin unless it has been recommended by your doctor first.
- Can the flu be prevented? Unfortunately there’s no guaranteed way to keep your child from getting the flu. From schools, playgrounds, and grocery stores to play dates, field trips, and vacations, your child is likely to be in constant contact with different individuals throughout the day, so the chances of coming into close contact with someone who could potentially have the flu is increased. We recommend the following flu prevention tips:
- Drink lots of water
- Wash hands regularly
- Avoid contact with used tissues
- Don’t drink or eat after others
- Keep your distance from anyone who may be sick
- Consider flu vaccination
- What are flu vaccinations? Flu vaccines help to protect patients from the flu virus but it’s important to note that they can’t prevent all strains of illness. Flu vaccines are most effective at helping prevent sickness when paired with a healthy immune system, nutritious diet, regular sleep, and reduced stress levels. We generally suggest children start receiving the flu vaccine when they’re 6 months of age and older between August and March – so there’s still time to get your vaccine if you haven’t already. At our office we offer both the flu shot and flu nasal mist for our patients – both are effective and depend on your child’s age and medical history which we would most recommend. Flu mist cannot be used for children under 2 years of age, those with a history of asthma and/or wheezing, or have used albuterol (an inhaler) within the prior two years.
Being sick is never fun and as parents, it can be extremely difficult navigating what to do when your child is sick, especially when they have the flu. The best thing you can do is to be proactive in monitoring the progression of your child’s sickness and if you suspect that your child has the flu, contact your doctor as soon as possible, especially if conditions worsen, to reduce the chances of further complications for untreated flu cases.