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If your child gets sick, what to expect:

It is officially flu season and Children’s National wants to arm you with important information that will help you and your family stay healthy. Influenza or the “flu” is caused by viruses, and each year the seasonal flu viruses make many children ill, sometimes causing complications that may need medical attention.

The best way to keep from getting sick is to practice good hygiene:

  • Avoid people who are sick, as flu viruses are able to travel through the air.
  • Avoid touching parts of your face, particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth as these places are where the flu virus can easily enter your body.
  • Wash hands frequently and properly. Use water and soap or waterless hand gels that contain alcohol.
    • If you are using water and soap, rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds. Tell your kids to sing Happy Birthday and wash their hands the entire time.
    • If you or your child is using hand gel, rub your hands together until the gel is gone.
    • Be careful to not let your children ingest the waterless hand gel.
  • At home, keep surfaces clean, like table tops, door knobs, and phones.
    • Use cleaners that have chlorine or ammonia in them.

Each year the seasonal flu vaccine is made specifically for the types of flu predicted for that year. This year, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that the flu vaccine be given to all children ages 6 months and older. It’s been found that the vaccine works best when it has two weeks to build immunity. To be ready for flu season, it is recommended that children get a flu shot by Thanksgiving.

If in doubt, it is best to consult with your primary care doctor, to decide the best way to have your child vaccinated. If your child has chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, or a cardiac condition, you may also want to consult with your child’s specialist.

What to expect: If your child gets sick

The flu makes most people feel sick all over. Common flu symptoms are fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, dizziness, chills, and fatigue. Some also might have vomiting and diarrhea. Many people who get the flu can feel sick for five to seven days.

If your child gets sick, follow these tips:

  • Keep your sick child home from school and other activities.
  • Try to keep your sick child away from siblings and others in your family so the illness does not spread.
  • Keep hands and surfaces clean.
  • Keep coughs and sneezes covered.
    • Teach children to use tissues for sneezing and coughing.
    • If a tissue isn’t available, teach them to sneeze or cough into their elbow, to keep germs off hands.

How to care for your child at home:

Most people get better with home treatment; they do not need to see the doctor or take special medicines. Here are some guidelines to help your child get better at home:

  • Make sure your child gets more rest than usual.
  • Make sure your children get lots of liquids
  • Infants (less than 12 months) should drink Pedialyte™, formula, breast milk, or juice
  • Children (older than 1 year): should drink Pedialyte™, juice, or water
  • Keep track of your child’s temperature. It’s a good idea to write down the time and temperature each time you take it.
  • You can give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol™) or ibuprofen (Advil™ or Motrin™) for fever or pain.
  • Do not give your child aspirin or aspirin products (such as Pepto-Bismol™ or Alka Seltzer™). Giving aspirin to a child with flu virus can cause serious side effects. Check product ingredients for aspirin if you are unsure.
  • If your child has flu-like symptoms and is already taking aspirin for another condition or illness, call your child’s doctor.
  • Continue any other prescription medications as instructed.

When to call your doctor:

Certain children may have a greater risk of serious flu illness.

Call your doctor or health center if your child gets flu symptoms and:

  • Is younger than 5 years and especially younger than 2 years
  • Is pregnant
  • Has another condition, including:
    • Asthma or other lung and breathing conditions, including cystic fibrosis;
    • Cancer;
    • Diabetes;
    • Genetic metabolic disorders;
    • Heart disease/weakness;
    • HIV/AIDS;
    • Immune system weakened from disease or treatment for other conditions like cancer;
    • Kidney disease;
    • Neurological conditions;
    • Neuromuscular disorders; or
    • Sickle cell disease.
  • If your child has any of the conditions listed above and anyone else in your home is sick with the flu.

When to seek immediate care at the emergency department:

Seek immediate care for your child for any of the following symptoms:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing;
  • Bluish skin color;
  • Dehydration (not drinking or not keeping fluids in);
  • Difficulty waking up or interacting;
  • Extreme irritability, including not wanting to be held;
  • Flu-like symptoms improve, but then return with fever and worse cough; and/or
  • Fever with a rash.

If your child’s symptoms worsen and your child has any of the severe symptoms listed above, seek care at the closest hospital emergency department.

Returning to normal activities:

Your child can return to school and other activities when:

  • The child is feeling better AND
  • The fever has been gone for 24 hours
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