The flu in children diagnosing, treating and preventing the influenza virus in babies and toddlers what to expect gas 4 weeks pregnant

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Children’s flu (short for “influenza”) is the same virus as the grown-up variety, but it doesn’t affect kids in the same way as it does adults. This contagious and common viral infection of the throat, nose and lungs usually rears its ugly head between the months of October and April. The difference is that any child under 5 is considered to be “high-risk” because young kids are more likely to experience complications from the flu, including pneumonia, than healthy adults. So if you suspect your little one might have the flu, call your doctor right away to get a firm diagnosis and have your child examined. What are the common symptoms of the flu in children?

The culprit behind the flu is the influenza virus, and different strains (plus occasionally new ones) circulate each year. Your child can catch the flu by coming into contact with an infected person, especially if that sick little — or big — someone sneezes or coughs on her. It’s also possible to get sick by touching something (a toy, a sippy cup) that an infected person has touched and then touching your own mouth, nose or eyes. How long does it take for symptoms to appear and how long will my child be sick?

A child (or an adult) will typically show symptoms of the flu 1 to 4 days after being infected with the virus. If your baby or tot comes down with the flu, symptoms usually last about a week but can linger for up to two weeks. Just don’t confuse influenza with the stomach flu (a.k.a. gastroenteritis). That’s caused by a variety of other viruses that don’t include influenza and leads to severe diarrhea and vomiting, sometimes with fever. Though influenza can come with vomiting, nausea and diarrhea, there are other symptoms like body aches, chills, sore throat and congestion or cough that don’t accompany stomach bugs. Plus gastroenteritis usually goes away much faster.

If someone has the flu, he or she can be contagious a day before symptoms appear and can continue to spread the disease 5 to 7 days after the first day of symptoms. However children and babies can be infectious for even longer, so err on the side of caution when exposing your little one to someone who is getting over the flu. Treatments for the flu in children

• Fluids. Offer lots of fluids to prevent dehydration from fever and loss of appetite. You can continue to nurse and bottle-feed your baby; if she’s eating solids, try giving her a bit of applesauce or broth. You can give your toddler Popsicles, too.

• Antiviral medications. Your doctor should be able to prescribe a safe influenza antiviral medication for your baby or toddler that can shorten the duration of the virus, make symptoms milder and prevent complications of the flu, but these medications must be given within the first 48 hours of symptoms starting. All the more reason to get to the pediatrician as soon as you can with your sick child. And some pediatricians advise against them for children because while antivirals can be effective, they can have severe side effects, ranging from mild (nausea or diarrhea) to more severe (vomiting and hallucinations). You and your practitioner should discuss the risks and benefits of these medications, especially for your child.

You might want to use a few saline nose drops followed by a rubber suction bulb (which you find in the pharmacy baby aisle) to clear clogged mucus, especially if the nasal congestion is preventing your child from resting, eating or staying comfortable. A cool-mist humidifier running in your child’s room, especially at night, can also be helpful (avoid a hot-water vaporizer, which can potentially burn your little one if she touches it).

Never give babies and young toddlers any over-the-counter children’s cold and flu medications, as they don’t help and can be harmful. Always check in with your doctor about what you can do to help your child recover from the flu. When to call the doctor

• If your baby is less than 3 months old and has a temperature of 100.4° or higher, call the doctor immediately. The flu can lead to serious complications, especially in young babies since they haven’t had a chance to build up their immune systems yet. If your baby is between 3 months and 3 years old, call your doctor if her temperature reaches 101.5° or higher (again, you’ll want your child to be checked).

Fast forward to your baby’s life outside the womb — especially the first six months, before she can be safely immunized against the flu — and that can be a different story. Once your baby takes in those first breaths of air, or touches those first surfaces, or has those tiny hands squeezed and kissed by visitors who come bearing germs along with their gifts, flowers and balloons, your baby is vulnerable to the flu virus. And due to her brand new, still-untested immune system, she’s especially vulnerable to serious complications from the flu, which can be life-threatening.

Since babies younger than 6 months are not old enough to get the flu vaccine, experts recommend that all other family members, including your baby’s caregiver(s), get vaccinated. Pregnant moms also need the flu shot to protect not only themselves but their unborn babies until they’re old enough to be vaccinated themselves. And you’ll want to make sure you and everyone your baby comes in contact with take extra steps to protect themselves from the flu by washing hands often. While you’re on the go, carry alcohol-based hand-sanitizing gel or wipes for those occasions when you’re caught with messy mitts and no sink in sight.

Doctors recommend the flu vaccine for all children ages 6 months old and up as the best defense against catching the virus. If your child has a chronic health condition like asthma or diabetes, it’s especially important for her to get vaccinated because the flu is more likely to lead to complications in kids with other health issues.

Get your child vaccinated before or early in flu season, by October, if possible (but it’s still not too late to get the vaccine later in the season). Even if the dominant flu viruses that season turn out to be different from the strains the vaccine protects against, the vaccination can make flu symptoms milder. So no matter what, your child will have some level of protection.

• Steer clear of other sick kids and parents (and their tissues!) if possible to avoid illness. If you or your child do come into contact with people who are sick, a thorough hand-washing (and even a bath) as soon as possible afterwards is a good idea. So is washing all potentially infected clothes, toys, books and other items.

If it does turn out that your little one has the flu, it’s normal to be worried and even scared, especially with young babies and toddlers. But with the proper medical care, supervision and treatment by the pediatrician, plus a lot of rest and fluids, your child will likely be on the path to recovery soon.