Influenza, or the flu, is an upper respiratory tract infection caused by the influenza virus. The flu season usually lasts from November through April.
Influenza is not the "stomach flu." Vomiting, nausea and diarrhea are caused by other bacteria or viruses and are rarely related to influenza.
Flu outbreaks begin suddenly and can spread through a community quickly. Young children are among the most at risk for getting the flu.
Influenza is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, sending the virus into the air. Anyone can get the flu by touching a surface (such as a door knob or telephone) contaminated by someone who has the flu.
Symptoms of influenza
Symptoms, which may start quickly, include:
- fever and/or chills
- dry cough
- sore throat
- runny or stuffy nose
- body aches.
Symptoms appear one to four days after your child has been infected. He can spread the flu to others before symptoms start and up to four days after symptoms appear.
How to know your child has influenza
Your child's health care provider will do a general exam.
How to treat influenza
In general, treatment for the flu includes:
- resting in bed
- drinking lots of fluids
- taking acetaminophen (Tylenol®), ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) or other over-the-counter medicines to treat symptoms. Follow your health care provider's or the package directions. Do not give aspirin to children. It could cause Reye's syndrome.
Antibiotics will not work on viruses.
How to prevent spreading influenza
Make sure your child:
- covers his mouth when he coughs or sneezes
- gets plenty of rest
- drinks lots of liquids
- washes his hands well with soap and water or a waterless alcohol product after going to the bathroom, after coughing or sneezing into his hands, after handling a tissue or other items that may have the flu germs
- have your child (older than 6 months) get an influenza vaccine in late October or early November. Ask your health care provider for details.
When to call your health care provider
Influenza is a serious disease. It can cause sinus problems and ear infections.
Call your health care provider for an appointment if your child shows signs of other infection:
Call your health care provider if your child doesn't seem to improve in three to four days.