Help: My child has the flu!

Most children with the flu feel tired and have a fever, headache, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and sore muscles.

Help: My child has the flu!
 If your child has flu, it’s important to ensure they get enough rest.

It’s winter, and that often means an increase in the cases of childhood flu. Children of all ages can get the flu, but little ones are more susceptible.

Children are more likely to catch and spread the flu (medically known as influenza) because they have large volumes of virus in their nasal secretions and, after infection, shed this for days. They also have poorer hygiene practices, often coughing and spluttering over those closest to them.

What is the flu?

The flu virus spreads mainly through droplets produced when infected individuals cough, sneeze, or even talk, but it can also be transmitted by touching surfaces where one of those droplets has landed and then touching one’s nose, mouth, or eyes. This is why handwashing is critical – for both the individual with the flu and those around them.

If someone in your household has the flu, ask your doctor if antiviral medicine is an option for others in the house. Frequently disinfect common surfaces such as the kitchen counter, bathroom sink, light switches, doorknobs, etc.

How can I keep my child safe from the flu?

First, with your paediatrician’s approval, have your child immunised. Teach your child how to wash their hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser when at school or away from home.

If your child has the flu, keep them home from school, daycare, and any other activities where they could spread the infection to others. If your child must go outside, they should wear a facemask to decrease the risk of spreading the illness to others.

What are the signs and symptoms of flu in children?

Seasonal flu symptoms include a fever (38 degrees or higher), headache, sore throat, intense weariness and body pains, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

How can I help my child?

Consider giving your child over-the-counter pain and fever medication suitable for their age.

  • Encourage them to drink plenty of water to keep hydrated. This is especially critical if your child suffers from a high temperature, vomiting, or diarrhoea. 
  • If possible, separate your child from other members of the family.
  • Ensure that your child gets adequate rest.
  • Keep them at home for at least 24 hours after the fever, and other symptoms have subsided.
  • Eaten utensils, drinking glasses, washcloths, towels, beds, pillows, and so on should not be shared until everyone in the home has been symptom-free for five days.
  • If your child has pain and fever, over-the-counter medication can help.Recently launched and conveniently packaged Panado® Paediatric Syrup, Peppermint 5 ml Sachets contains paracetamol, which boasts more than 150 years of clinical experience, and is a trusted choice for many South African families to treat headaches, pain and fever. It’s also gentle on little tummies.

Good to know: Antibiotics have no effect on the flu because a virus causes it.

When should I get medical help for my child?

Children who are very young or have significant medical issues are more likely to require medical care from their doctor for flu (such as asthma, cancer or lung disease, or who are on dialysis).

If you believe your child needs medical attention, contact your paediatrician immediately. Instead of having you come into the clinic, where your child could infect others, your doctor may prefer to speak with you over the phone and offer remedies.

How long does the incubation period persist, and how long is the contagious phase?

Most healthy children with the flu can infect others beginning one day before symptoms appear and continuing for up to seven days after symptoms have resolved. Children with compromised immune systems can be contagious for several weeks.

Is it possible to catch the flu after being immunised?

A flu vaccine significantly reduces the risk of having the flu, but it does not guarantee that a child will not get the virus. To determine the most likely flu strains for the season, clinicians and scientists make their best judgment based on current flu patterns. Unfortunately, there may be strains circulating in the environment that are not covered by the vaccine. The influenza vaccine contains three strains of the virus.

The good news is that even if the vaccination strains and the circulating strains do not match perfectly, the vaccine can still provide some protection since viral strains share commonalities. The vaccine takes about two weeks to elicit the proper protective response.

If a child becomes infected soon after having the vaccine, or if they were exposed to the virus before receiving the vaccine, symptoms may still occur.