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 Influenza, Pediatric

Influenza, Pediatric

Influenza, more commonly known as "the flu," is a viral infection that mainly affects the respiratory tract. The respiratory tract includes organs that help your child breathe, such as the lungs, nose, and throat. The flu causes many symptoms similar to the common cold along with high fever and body aches.
The flu spreads easily from person to person (is contagious). Having your child get a flu shot (influenza vaccination) every year is the best way to prevent the flu.

What are the causes?

This condition is caused by the influenza virus. Your child can get the virus by:
  • Breathing in droplets that are in the air from an infected person's cough or sneeze.
  • Touching something that has been exposed to the virus (has been contaminated) and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes.

What increases the risk?

Your child is more likely to develop this condition if he or she:
  • Does not wash or sanitize his or her hands often.
  • Has close contact with many people during cold and flu season.
  • Touches the mouth, eyes, or nose without first washing or sanitizing his or her hands.
  • Does not get a yearly (annual) flu shot.
Your child may have a higher risk for the flu, including serious problems such as a severe lung infection (pneumonia), if he or she:
  • Has a weakened disease-fighting system (immune system). Your child may have a weakened immune system if he or she:
    • Has HIV or AIDS.
    • Is undergoing chemotherapy.
    • Is taking medicines that reduce (suppress) the activity of the immune system.
  • Has any long-term (chronic) illness, such as:
    • A liver or kidney disorder.
    • Diabetes.
    • Anemia.
    • Asthma.
  • Is severely overweight (morbidly obese).

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms may vary depending on your child's age. They usually begin suddenly and last 4–14 days. Symptoms may include:
  • Fever and chills.
  • Headaches, body aches, or muscle aches.
  • Sore throat.
  • Cough.
  • Runny or stuffy (congested) nose.
  • Chest discomfort.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Weakness or fatigue.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea or vomiting.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition may be diagnosed based on:
  • Your child's symptoms and medical history.
  • A physical exam.
  • Swabbing your child's nose or throat and testing the fluid for the influenza virus.

How is this treated?

If the flu is diagnosed early, your child can be treated with medicine that can help reduce how severe the illness is and how long it lasts (antiviral medicine). This may be given by mouth (orally) or through an IV.
In many cases, the flu goes away on its own. If your child has severe symptoms or complications, he or she may be treated in a hospital.

Follow these instructions at home:


  • Give your child over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your child's health care provider.
  • Do not give your child aspirin because of the association with Reye's syndrome.

Eating and drinking

  • Make sure that your child drinks enough fluid to keep his or her urine pale yellow.
  • Give your child an oral rehydration solution (ORS), if directed. This is a drink that is sold at pharmacies and retail stores.
  • Encourage your child to drink clear fluids, such as water, low-calorie ice pops, and diluted fruit juice. Have your child drink slowly and in small amounts. Gradually increase the amount.
  • Continue to breastfeed or bottle-feed your young child. Do this in small amounts and frequently. Gradually increase the amount. Do not give extra water to your infant.
  • Encourage your child to eat soft foods in small amounts every 3–4 hours, if your child is eating solid food. Continue your child's regular diet, but avoid spicy or fatty foods.
  • Avoid giving your child fluids that contain a lot of sugar or caffeine, such as sports drinks and soda.


  • Have your child rest as needed and get plenty of sleep.
  • Keep your child home from work, school, or daycare as told by your child's health care provider. Unless your child is visiting a health care provider, keep your child home until his or her fever has been gone for 24 hours without the use of medicine.

General instructions

  • Have your child:
    • Cover his or her mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
    • Wash his or her hands with soap and water often, especially after coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, have your child use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier to add humidity to the air in your child's room. This can make it easier for your child to breathe.
  • If your child is young and cannot blow his or her nose effectively, use a bulb syringe to suction mucus out of the nose as told by your child's health care provider.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your child's health care provider. This is important.

How is this prevented?

  • Have your child get an annual flu shot. This is recommended for every child who is 6 months or older. Ask your child's health care provider when your child should get a flu shot.
  • Have your child avoid contact with people who are sick during cold and flu season. This is generally fall and winter.

Contact a health care provider if your child:

  • Develops new symptoms.
  • Produces more mucus.
  • Has any of the following:
    • Ear pain.
    • Chest pain.
    • Diarrhea.
    • A fever.
    • A cough that gets worse.
    • Nausea.
    • Vomiting.

Get help right away if your child:

  • Develops difficulty breathing.
  • Starts to breathe quickly.
  • Has blue or purple skin or nails.
  • Is not drinking enough fluids.
  • Will not wake up from sleep or interact with you.
  • Gets a sudden headache.
  • Cannot eat or drink without vomiting.
  • Has severe pain or stiffness in the neck.
  • Is younger than 3 months and has a temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher.


  • Influenza, known as "the flu," is a viral infection that mainly affects the respiratory tract.
  • Symptoms of the flu typically last 4–14 days.
  • Keep your child home from work, school, or daycare as told by your child's health care provider.
  • Have your child get an annual flu shot. This is the best way to prevent the flu.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.