Children get the flu 1.5 to 3 times more often than adults, depending on the age. Unfortunately, young children under 5 years old, especially if they are less than 2 years old, are among the group of people who are at higher risk for serious complications and severe infection. Children with chronic medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, cystic fibrosis, asthma) or weakened immune systems, and children on long-term acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) treatment (e.g., children with Kawasaki disease) are also at risk for flu complications.
Flu-related complications that children can experience include increased risk of being hospitalized, ear infections, bacterial or viral infections of the respiratory tract (e.g., pneumonia, croup), or sepsis (a serious blood infection). Children with medical conditions might see their condition worsen (e.g., increased asthma symptoms if they have asthma).
Children with the seasonal flu can have symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, decreased appetite, muscle ache, and tiredness. Sometimes they may experience nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. These symptoms are often confused with cold symptoms. Learn more about the difference between a cold and the flu here.
If your child does get the flu, take these steps to make your child feel better:
- If your child has any of the symptoms listed below, bring your child to the doctor. Use the Doctor Discussion Guide to help you prepare for the visit to your child's doctor.
- Reassure and comfort your child. Let them know you're there for them and that there are many things they can do to get healthy.
- Keep your child at home from school or daycare so that they don't spread the flu to others. Keep them at home until their fever has been gone for at least 24 hours and they are back to their normal activity.
- Remind your child of proper hand-washing, coughing, and sneezing techniques.
- Give a fever-reducing medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, if they have a fever. Do not give your child ASA. A possible complication of giving ASA to children with the flu is Reye's syndrome, which is a serious condition affecting the nervous system and liver. Parents of children who are taking long-term ASA therapy should talk to their doctor about Reye's syndrome.
- Make sure your child eats healthy and stays physically active to keep their immune system strong.
The following are symptoms of more severe flu infection or symptoms of complications. If your child has any of these symptoms, bring your child to their doctor right away:
- sudden paleness
- not eating or drinking enough fluids or breast-feeding
- vomiting more than 2 or 3 times in a 24-hour period
- stiff neck
- being so irritable that they don't want to play or be held
- high fever (more than 39.5°C) lasting more than 3 days
- not waking up or interacting
- shortness of breath, fast breathing, or difficulty breathing
- chest pain
- bluish or greyish skin colour
- sudden dizziness or confusion
- low blood pressure
- bloody or coloured spit
Your child's doctor may recommend taking antiviral medication to treat your child. Antiviral medication taken within the first 48 hours of getting the flu can reduce symptoms, shorten the length of illness, and may reduce serious complications.
Follow these steps to help prevent your child from getting the flu:
- Teach your child how to wash their hands properly. Tell them to count to 20 or sing the song "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" slowly while washing their hands with soap and water.
- Show your child how to cough or sneeze into their arm or sleeve, not their hand. If tissue is available, show them how to cough or sneeze into the tissue and dispose of the tissue into the garbage can immediately. Explain to them that the flu is spread when sick people cough or sneeze the germs into the air. The germs can get onto your hands, which is also why you need to wash your hands regularly.
- Regularly clean and disinfect doorknobs, light switches, keyboards, telephones, and toys with household disinfectants.