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Illnesses & Symptoms

Influenza

What is Influenza?

Influenza.pngInfluenza is a viral infection of the nose, throat, and airways in the lungs.

Common symptoms include
  • fever and chills (often over 102F)
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny nose
  • muscle aches
  • headache
Don't confuse the common cold or a stomach bug with the flu

What Causes Influenza?

Flu is caused by influenza viruses.

There are several types of influenza viruses and they can all mutate easily, so it is possible to get the flu more than once in a season.

It spreads rapidly because the incubation period is only 2 days.

How to know that your child has influenza?

If influenza is widespread in your community and your child has flu symptoms, then he or she probably has flu.

You don’t need to get any special tests. Testing is not recommended in most instances. See the CDC decision chart to learn if testing is indicated. We will sometimes offer testing in addition to the reasons listed to help families decide if others in the home are at risk, especially if there are family members who would be at high risk from influenza.

You don’t need to call or see your child’s doctor unless your child is HIGH-RISK (see below) or develops a possible complication of the flu.

How to treat Seasonal Flu?

The treatment of flu depends on your child's main symptoms.

Bed rest is not necessary, but it is important to avoid other people to decrease the spread of disease.

The Kansas Department of Health recommends the following:
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Persons confirmed to have influenza are required to stay home for seven days following onset of symptoms per Kansas regulation. According to CDC, persons with influenza are considered infectious for 5-7 days after becoming sick.
  • If sick with other febrile respiratory illnesses, stay home for at least 24 hours after fever is gone without using fever-reducing medicine.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective when soap and water is unavailable.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu. 

Fluids and rest are important.

Antibiotics are not helpful.

 

Fever or aches

  • Keep kids comfortable with fever reducers if needed, but your goal is not to bring the temperature to normal, it's for comfort.
  • Give acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin if over 6 months of age) for fever over 102°F (39°C) or for any pain. See our Medication page for dosing.
  • Children and adolescents should never take aspirin unless prescribed by a physician/nurse practitioner.
 

Cough

  • For children over age 6 years, give cough drops when they are awake if needed. Never give these to children who are not able to stay awake or who may otherwise be at risk of choking.  
  • If your child is over 1 year of age, give honey (1/2 to 1 teaspoon as needed). Never give honey to babies. Cough medicines are not as helpful as honey for all ages and they are not approved for children under 4 years old.
  • Prescription cough medicines have not been shown to help more than over the counter cough medicines. For more, see our Cough page.
  • Humidifing the air can help.
  • Menthol may help, but not on your feet! Learn more about the risks and benefits of menthol on Dr. Stuppy's blog.
  • See our page on cough and colds for more information.

Sore throat
  • Tylenol or ibuprofen (over 6 months of age) is very helpful for throat pain.
  • Children over 6 years old can suck on hard candy or cough lozenges.
  • Children over 1 year old can sip warm chicken broth or other warm fluids.
  • Smoothies or popsicles can make the throat feel better. Give ones made from real fruit and vegetables, not sugary fruit flavored frozen water.

Stuffy or blocked nose
  • Saline (or warm-water) nose drops followed by suction (or nose blowing) will open most blocked noses.  Use these “nasal washes” whenever your child can't breathe through the nose.  You can buy saline spray without a prescription.  
  • For more on using nose washes, see the bottom of Dr. Stuppy's Nose Sprays blog.

Antiviral medicine (such as Tamiflu)
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC recommend antiviral medicines be prescribed for all HIGH-RISK children (see below) who come down with flu.  
  • Most children with influenza do not need antiviral medicine unless they develop serious symptoms (such as pneumonia).  
  • Antiviral medicines must be started within 48 hours of the start of flu symptoms to have an effect. They usually reduce the time your child is sick by 1 or 2 days.  They improve the symptoms but do not eliminate them.
  • We at Pediatric Partners are fearful that overuse of Tamiflu will cause resistance of the influenza virus to virus fighting medications, therefore lending them ineffective to the most sick people. We will only recommend Tamiflu for the sickest and most at risk patients.
  • More on Tamiflu:
    • Dr. Stuppy has written about Tamiflu in depth on Tamiflu: the Not-so-great Influenza Treatment. We encourage you to read this prior to giving your children Tamiflu.
    • She also reports the World Health Organization's downgrading of Tamiflu status in Tamiflu Status Downgraded.
    • She also had a guest blogger, a pediatrician who previously worked in the pharmacetuical industry, Dr. Mark Helm, give his insights into Tamiflu

HIGH-RISK children for complications

The following children are at higher risk for complications from flu:  lung disease (such as uncontrolled asthma), heart disease (such as a congenital heart disease), weak immune system (such as cancer), diabetes, sickle cell disease, kidney disease, diseases requiring long-term aspirin therapy, other chronic diseases, pregnant teens.

Expected course

The fever lasts 2 to 3 days, the runny or stuffy nose 1 to 2 weeks, and the cough 2 to 3 weeks.

Prevention of Seasonal Flu: Flu vaccines

  • Yearly flu vaccines are the best way to prevent influenza and are recommended for all children over 6 months of age.
  • Yes, it is possible to still get sick if you're exposed to influenza even after the vaccine, but the course is typically more mild. The vaccine can help prevent death and hospitalizations from influenza.

If you're not planning on getting a flu vaccine, check out Dr Stuppy's 10 Reasons Not To Get the Flu Vaccine, Reconsidered


Preventing spread to others
 
  • The virus is spread by sneezing, coughing and hand contact.  Cover the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash the hands frequently.
  • Stay home when sick.  This includes avoiding the doctor's office unless severly sick or high risk, as stated below.
  • Your child may return to child care or school after the fever is gone for at least 24 hours with most illnesses, but if they have influenza, our state regulation is to stay home a week (see above under "How to Treat Seasonal Flu").

When your child needs Immediate Care

Call your child's doctor or go to a local pediatric urgent care center or emergency department NOW (night or day) if:
 
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Breathing becomes difficult or fast
  • Dehydration occurs (no urine in 12 hours, dry mouth, no tears)

Call your child's doctor during the day if:

 
  • Your think your child needs to be seen
  • Your child is in the HIGH RISK group
  • Earache or sinus pain is significant
  • Fever lasts more than 3 days
  • Cough lasts more than 3 weeks
  • Your child becomes worse

 

Find health information quickly in our parent toolkit.

Illnesses & Symptoms