The arrival of winter months is highly anticipated by many people. This begins the holiday season which means spending quality time with family, vacations, shopping, snow fights, skiing, and so forth. While most events and occurrences related to winter are favorable, the arrival of cold weather often means the onset of flu and cold season. Everyone becomes infected with the influenza virus at some stage in life. Those hit hardest by this infection are children. Despite all parental efforts to protect children from germs that cause colds and the flu, each year millions of children become ill. Approximately 42% of children are infected with the flu annually. Thus, it is essential for parents to fully grasp important facts about the flu.
What Is The Flu?
Influenza, or the flu is a infection that is caused by one of three strains of viruses. The flu generally begins as an infection in the airway passage, nose, and throat. As the virus advances, the lungs may become infected. While adults are also affected, the flu is more common in children. Moreover, children face more complications, and are twice as likely to spread the infection. The flu season begins in late fall or early winter. Because of varying temperatures during late fall, some regions across the country may begin to experience early outbreaks of the infection. For the most part, flu season begins to quiet down around March.
Influenza vs. Common Cold
Some parents confuse the flu with the common cold. However, the two illnesses are significantly different. The common cold, which is classified as a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and low fever, is caused by one of 250 viruses. Children are typically able to continue normal function with a cold. They may become exhausted easily or move at a snail’s pace. Yet, colds are generally mild and the recovery time is a few days. On the other hand, children infected with the flu endure a more serious infection. There are varying degrees of the flu. Some children experience mild symptoms, while others may require medical attention. For the most part, parents should be able to distinguish the flu from a common cold.
How Flu Spreads in Children
The flu is highly contagious, thus it can easily spread from person to person. Like most contagious viruses and infections, the flu is airborne. Thus, when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, etc, minute particles leave their body and travel in the air. For this reason, a child may become infected with the flu from a total stranger. Simply sitting next to an infected person is enough exposure. Moreover, touching door knobs, sharing phones, and placing items in our mouths place us and our children at great risk. Adults are normally conscious of germs, and religiously wash their hands. However, children are less aware of unclean items which make them more susceptible to the infection. Bad habits common of children include putting toys and other objects in their mouth, and coughing without covering their month. To protect our children, parents must instill good hygiene habits from a young age.
Who’s at Risk?
No child is exempt from catching the flu. Even parents who have exhausted all efforts to keep their child germ-free discover that preventing colds and flu are nearly impossible. Although the flu does not discriminate, children suffering from certain medical conditions have a higher risk of infection. This includes children suffering from asthma, heart problems, cystic fibrosis, and other respiratory illnesses. If infected, children suffering from previous respiratory problems may come across complications. The flu severely weakens a child’s immune system, which causes flare-ups of other illnesses.
Symptoms of Influenza
Once learning the facts about childhood influenza, parents must be able to identify symptoms. On average, a child will begin to show signs of flu 2 – 3 days after being exposed to the infection. Typical symptoms of flu in children include:
Initially, symptoms of the flu will resemble the common cold. Gradually, children will experience a worsening of their symptoms until they are unable to function normally. For a period of 3 – 4 days, children will have little energy and sleep most of the day. Other symptoms that may occur include vomiting, diarrhea, and extreme irritability. Naturally, these symptoms will concern parents. However, parents must remain calm. When children become ill, the natural parental response is rushing them to the emergency room. There are no prescription medications available for the flu, and antibiotics are ineffective. Childhood flu is very common, and an improved condition is noticeable within a few days. Unless a child suffers from other respiratory problems that warrant close monitoring, has a fever that spikes over 103 degrees, or show signs of being delusional, the flu can be safely treated at home with rest, plenty of fluids, and children’s flu medication.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Fever lasting longer than 3 days
Nasal discharge lasting longer than 10 days
Nasal discharge that appears thick or green
Running discharge from eyes
Child shows signs of dehydration (dry skin, no tears, and infrequent urination)
Fever does not respond to medications
Suffering a seizure
Preventing Influenza in Children
Although the flu in children is common, each year there are several deaths related to the flu. Prevention is the key. Nonetheless, preventing the flu in children is tricky. Even though children are likely to become sick against all the odds, preventive measures may reduce the severity of flu. An effective method of prevention is having our children receive an annual flu vaccination. In fact, this vaccination is recommended for children between the ages of 6-months to 2-years-old. Additional preventative measures include:
Limit your child’s contact with sick persons
Keep your child home from school or daycare if he or she shows signs of the flu
Train children to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze
Train children to regularly wash their hands
Train children to keep their hands and other objects out of their mouths