Help! Is it the flu? Maybe COVID? Is it one of the gazillion other common childhood viruses out there? How do you know?
What parents should know about the flu
This blog post will cover what parents should know about the flu. In addition, this post will discuss how we get the flu, the symptoms, how we can prevent it, treatment, and what to monitor when your kiddo has it.
What is the flu like?
As a pediatrician, I’ve had my share of illnesses from my lovely patients. As a mom, I’ve had even more: COVID, hand, foot and mouth, random viruses. My immune system has been through it all. But, let me tell you, the flu is not fun. The last time I had was in January 2017, which knocked me out. The worst body aches that felt like breaking bones, chills, fever, and viral bronchitis for a month after. It wasn’t pretty.
When is flu season?
The flu season typically falls until early spring, but the pandemic has ruined this, and now we have seen late spring surges or even the summer. Interestingly, Australia had its worst flu season in five years. Why do we care? Well, Australia is in an opposite seasonal pattern than the northern hemisphere, so what happens there with the flu can predict what happens for us. So we want to be prepared this season.
How is it spread?
Person-to-person contact is how the flu spreads. For example, when someone with the flu coughs or sneezes, the influenza virus gets into the air, and people can inhale it through the nose or mouth. The virus can also spread when people touch a contaminated hard surface, such as a door handle, and then put their hands or fingers in their nose or mouth or rub their eyes.
What are the symptoms, and how can you differentiate them from COVID?
A kid with the flu (or even an adult) feels like “they got hit by a truck.” Symptoms come on suddenly. COVID reports have been more gradual, especially in kids with fever and runny nose. At the same time, flu hits you like a ton of bricks. You’re okay, and then all of a sudden, BOOM – fever, chills, body aches, headache, sore throat, dry hacking cough, stuffy nose, and throwing up.
In a pandemic, COVID is always a differential, so if unsure, get tested at urgent care, clinician, or home testing. Either way—you should be staying home if you’re unwell. Symptoms can last 3-5 days, and the fevers, body aches, and chills should subside, with the cough lingering. Make sure to watch my video on coughs and colds for more on when to be concerned about a cough and remedies, as well as my video on fevers on when to evaluate a fever!
How can we reduce our risk?
Here are five tips to reducing our risk of getting the flu! Eliminating risk is impossible, so we do our best to reduce it!
- Stay home and keep kids home if sick (i.e., don’t medicate and treat. If they’re too cranky to be at school, they should be home and resting). If we all did this, we could reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses.
- Vary nutrition, including gut-friendly foods such as plant-based foods.
- Prioritize a full night of sleep for your kiddos as its helpful for the immune system to repair and rest.
- Teach children hand-washing—ideally, we want them to not touch eyes and mouth and nose but listen; I’m a mom, I get it. Do your best. Teach them to cover their mouth when sneezing with their elbow and wash their hands.
- Get the flu vaccine if your child is six months or older. If your child is eight and younger, they will need two doses four weeks apart the first time they get it. The first vaccine primes their immune system, and the second gives them more immunity. Every season after that, they will get one flu vaccine a season. If your child has had their ninth birthday, they would only need one a year.
What to monitor if your child has the flu
- Keep your child home until fever-free and med-free (fever-reducing pain-reducing medicines for 24 hours)
- Keep them hydrated with favorites
- Don’t worry if they’re not eating but offer food
- Focus on soups
If any of the following occur, seek medical attention:
- Trouble breathing or unusually rapid breathing
- Bluish lips/face
- Retractions in chest
- Chest pain
- Inability to walk due to body aches
- Not interactive at baseline development when awake
- Worsening cough
Still have questions?
Wondering why you should get the flu vaccine if you’re healthy? When should you get it? Wondering if the flu vaccine gives the flu? In my YouTube video, I cover so much more (including the answer to all of these questions!), so be sure to watch it and subscribe.