Each year, millions of children get sick with the flu and thousands are hospitalized. Some kids are at higher risk of serious complications:  those younger than five, and any child who has a chronic medical condition such as asthma, diabetes, or disorders of the brain or nervous system. However, even healthy children can develop complications. 

The best way to protect children is a yearly, injectable flu vaccine. It is not too late to get a shot. The vaccine protects your child against flu illnesses, which can reduce visits to the doctor and missed school days, and can prevent hospitalizations. 

Symptoms of the flu typically begin one to four days after exposure to the virus and, in children, last one to two weeks. In addition to the typical fever, cough, aches and fatigue, children are more likely than adults to suffer vomiting and diarrhea – which can lead to dehydration.

Call the pediatrician if your child develops a fever; starts breathing rapidly or has trouble breathing; is not drinking enough; is less responsive than normal; or has the flu, gets better, and then relapses with fever or cough.

Tips on caring for children with the flu:

  • Encourage them to drink plenty of fluids.
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and body aches. Ibuprofen can be used for children six months of age and older; however, it should not be given to kids who are dehydrated or who are vomiting continuously. Do not give children aspirin unless directed to do so by a doctor.
  • Call your child’s doctor within 24 hours of the first flu symptom to ask about antiviral medications, especially if your child is at higher risk for flu-related complications.

Sabina D. Holland, MD

Sabina Holland, MD, is a pediatrician who specializes in infectious diseases at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.