Influenza Infection or The Flu in Children

The flu is not the same as a cold.The terms "a cold" and "the flu" are not the same thing. The common cold, caused by any one of 250 viruses, lasts for a few days and causes cough and a stuffy or runny nose which may be accompanied by a fever. The "flu", caused by the Influenza virus, is a potentially more serious infection.The flu often begins like a cold, but is usually associated with:

  • High fever
  • Severe muscle/body aches
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite and
  • Extreme fatigue and weakness

While a cold usually lasts for a few days and goes away on its own with out any complication or problem, the flu can last up to 7-10 days or even longer. Also, the cough and fatigue from an influenza infection can persist for weeks. The bottom line is that the flu is not the same as a cold; it is potentially a much more dangerous infection than the common cold.

How the flu is spread?

The influenza virus is spread from one person to another by airborne droplets in a cough or a sneeze. It is important to realize that the Influenza virus can also be spread indirectly; because it can live for up 48 hours outside of the body, this virus can be contracted from surfaces such as telephones, computer keyboards, door-knobs and toys. Don't forget that unwashed hands and kitchen utensils can also transmit the virus.

Who is at risk?

In children less than 24 months of age or children of any age with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, heart problems or cystic fibrosis, the Influenza infection can be complicated by serious and potentially deadly complications such as pneumonia. The Influenza virus weakens the body's immune or defense system and makes it easier for other infections to occur.

Children and the flu

Influenza infection rates are higher in younger children, and even healthy kids can end up quite sick as a result of the flu. Studies have shown that up top 42% of pre-school age children develop the flu. In addition, during the influenza season, there are higher rates of ear infections(or Otitis Media) as well as severe bacterial lung infections among children.

Treating the flu

Unfortunately there is no specific cure or medicine for the flu. There are some new anti-influenza virus medications on the market, but are not indicated for children. The best approach is prevention which can be achieved by getting a flu vaccine. If a child develops the flu, the treatment includes:

  • Rest
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Acetaminophen(Tempra or children's Tylenol) for fever and pain

Some important points

  • Antibiotics are not effective against the influenza virus.
  • Aspirin (ASA) should never be given to children with the flu.
  • If anyone has the flu they should avoid contact with seniors, young children and people with chronic underlying medical conditions who are most at risk for developing influenza-related complications.

Prevention is best

Up until recently, only children with chronic medical conditions including asthma, heart problems and weakened immune or "body defense" systems such as AIDS, were thought to be at risk for flu related complications. Tragically, during the 2003-2004 season there were several deaths among young otherwise healthy children as a result of the flu in North America. It seems that the flu is even more dangerous to normal young children too. For this reason, Canadian national vaccination guidelines currently recommend that all healthy children between six months and five years of age (six months to eight years of age in the US) receive an annual flu vaccine.

Aside from the flu vaccine, here are some other steps that parents, schools, and others can take to help prevent the spread of the flu virus:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Keep your child home, if he or she is sick
  • Teach your children to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
  • Teach your children to wash their hands, especially before and after meals