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Protect Your Child from the Flu

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.

Flu symptoms

Flu symptoms tend to come on quickly. Symptoms include:

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Feeling very tired (fatigue)

  • Dry cough

  • Sore throat

  • Runny nose

  • Muscle aches

Children may also have upset stomach and vomiting. Some symptoms such as fatigue and cough can last a few weeks.

Girl at bathroom sink, showing her soapy hands

To protect your child

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

  • Have your child get a flu vaccine every year, as soon as it is available in your area. This is your child’s best chance to avoid the flu. The CDC recommends that infants and children get flu vaccines beginning at 6 months of age. The vaccine may be a shot or nasal spray. Your child's healthcare provider will tell you which is best for your child. The nasal spray 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. In the past, it was meant for children ages 2 and older.

  • Help your child wash his or her hands often. 

  • Don't allow your child to drink from the same cup that others have used or share foods.

  • Teach your children to cough or sneeze into their elbow, sleeve, or a tissue, and to wash their hands afterward.

If your child gets sick

  • Give your child plenty of fluids, 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.

  • Use children’s strength medicine for symptoms. Discuss over-the-counter (OTC) medicines with your child's healthcare provider 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 medicines to a child under age 6, unless your child's healthcare provider tells you to do so.

  • Ask your child’s provider about antiviral medicine. If taken within the first 2 days of the flu, it can help your child have fewer symptoms and get well sooner.

When to call your child's healthcare provider

Call your child's healthcare provider 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 repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher

  • A fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2, or for 3 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. These include decreased urination (diapers not as wet as usual in a baby or toddler), dry mouth, and no tears when crying.

Online Medical Reviewer: Cunningham, Louise, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically-affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 8/28/2014
© 2000-2016 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.