Child Flu Prevention

What is “The Flu”

Seasonal influenza, “the flu,” is caused by a virus. Anyone, at any age, can get the flu. Children commonly need medical care because of the flu, especially before they turn 5 years old. Severe influenza complications are most common in children younger than 2 years old. The virus infects the respiratory tract – nose, throat and lungs. Unlike the common cold, the flu is much more dangerous for children. There are different strains of the flu virus circulating each year, so each flu season is different. The best flu prevention for your child is the flu vaccine. Learn more about about the flu from the CDC.

When is the Flu Season?

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The Flu can occur at any time of the year, but commonly peaks between December and February. It can begin as early as October and continue to May. Flu viruses are constantly changing. They can change from one season to the next or even change during the flu season. Some flu seasons are mild and some are severe, but every year your child can be at risk of coming down with the flu.

The annual flu vaccines typically protect against multiple strains of the flu. Even if the vaccine is not an exact match, the vaccine still has benefits. Receiving the annual flu vaccine can reduce how
sick your child actually becomes.

When should your child receive the flu vaccine?

Everyone ages six months and older should receive a flu shot. There are very few exceptions. Talk to your pediatrician about flu vaccines for children, including which flu vaccine option is best for your child. Download the complete immunization schedule for children or visit the CDC to for more flu vaccination information.

How the Flu Spreads:

The flu can spread from person to person, from up to six feet away. Flu is spread when people sneeze, cough or talk, or by touching a surface with the flu virus on it and then touching your own mouth or nose. Children can spread the virus for longer than 7 days. Since symptoms start 1 to 4 days after your child becomes infected, they can spread the flu before anyone knows they are sick! Children who are infected may not even have symptoms – but they can still spread the flu virus.

Symptoms of the Flu:

The flu usually comes on suddenly. Most people who get the flu will recover in a few days to less than two weeks. Children who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

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  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
    (not everyone with flu will have a fever)
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, although this is more common in children than adults.

Most people who get the flu will recover in a few days to less than two weeks. Individuals with chronic health issues, such as asthma or congestive heart failure, might experience
worsening of these conditions while sick with the flu.

When to Call Your Doctor:

All children can be at risk for serious complications from the flu. If your child develops flu-like symptoms, you can contact their doctor to discuss the best treatment options and care. If your child is younger than five years (especially those younger than 2), or if they have a chronic medical condition, they are considered to be at “high-risk”. Call your doctor right away if your child is in a high-risk group.

Call for emergency care or take your child to a doctor right away if your child of any age has any of the warning or emergency signs below:

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  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish or gray skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids (not going to the bathroom or making as much urine as they normally do)
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Has other conditions (like heart or lung disease, diabetes, or asthma) and develops flu symptoms, including a fever and/or cough.

Treatment for the Flu:

Your doctor will decide whether to test your child for the flu. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs to treat the flu. If a child gets sick with the flu, antiviral drugs offer a safe and effective treatment option. Flu antiviral drugs can make flu symptoms milder and can shorten the length of illness. Antiviral drugs work best if started within two days of symptoms starting. Early treatment of the flu with antiviral drugs has also been shown to reduce ear infections and the need for antibiotics in children between the ages of 1 and 12 years old.

Your child should not attend school, day care or other activities for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone. The fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine. This will help prevent the spread of flu.

How can I help prevent the spread of the flu?

The flu vaccine is the best flu prevention! Vaccination is the most important thing you can do to prevent illness for both yourself and others. You can also practice good habits to help prevent the spread of the flu:

Limit Contact! Try to avoid close contact with sick people. If you are sick, limit contact with others as much as possible so that you don’t infect someone else.

Stay Home! Stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone, except to get medical care or for other necessities. Your fever should be gone without using fever-reducing medicine.

Don’t Touch! Avoid touching your eyes, nose and
mouth. Germs spread this way.

Use Those Tissues! Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If you don’t have a tissue, don’t sneeze into your hands! Sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow.

Wash! Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

Clean it Up! Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

Pay Attention to Public Health Officials! If an outbreak of flu or another illness occurs, follow public health advice. This may include information about how to increase distance between people and other measures.

Visit the CDC website for more information about flu prevention.



A Project of County Health Officials of New York