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Protect Your Child from the Flu

You likely know that each winter, children all over the country get “the flu.” But do you know what the flu really is? It’s not the same as a cold or stomach bug. The flu (influenza) is caused by a virus that’s easy to spread, especially among kids in school or daycare. And a child’s immune system is not as well developed as an adult’s. This means the flu can make children very sick.

Boy and girl washing hands with soap and water in bathroom sink.

Flu Symptoms

Flu symptoms tend to come on quickly. Fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and muscle aches are symptoms of the flu. Children may have upset stomach and vomiting (but adults usually don’t). Some symptoms, such as fatigue and cough, can last a few weeks.

To Protect Your Child

Here’s how you can help your child stay healthy:

  • Get your child a flu shot each autumn. This is your child’s best chance to avoid the flu.

  • Help your child wash his or her hands often. 

  • Don't allow your child to drink or eat after others.

  • Teach your child to cough or sneeze into his or her elbow, sleeve, or a tissue.

If Your Child Gets Sick

  • Give your child plenty of fluids to help prevent dehydration, such as an electrolyte solution, water, juice, and soup.

  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest.

  • Keep your child at home to prevent the spread of germs. Do so until at least 24 hours after the fever is gone (without being reduced by medications such as ibuprofen).

  • Use “children’s strength” medication for symptoms. Discuss over-the-counter (OTC) products with the doctor before using them. Never give your child aspirin, and never give ibuprofen to an infant age 6 months or younger.
    NOTE: Do not give OTC cough and cold medications to a child under age 6, unless your doctor tells you to do so.

  • Ask your child’s doctor about antiviral medication. This may help your child get well sooner.

  • Never give a child under age 18 aspirin for the flu! (It could cause a serious complication.)

When to Call the Doctor

Call the doctor if your otherwise healthy child has:

  • Shortness of breath or fast breathing

  • Worsening symptoms, especially after a period of improvement

  • Bluish-tinged skin

  • Trouble waking up or is not alert

  • In an infant under age 3 months, a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher

  • In a child of any age who has a temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher

  • A fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2, or for three days in a child age 2 or older

  • Had a seizure caused by the fever

  • Fever with rash

  • Severe or continued vomiting

  • Signs of dehydration: decreased urination (diapers not as wet as usual); dry mouth; refuses to drink fluids; no tears when crying


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