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 viruses or bacteria and are rarely related to influenza.

Symptoms of influenza

Symptoms, which may start quickly, include:

  • fever, chills or both
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • sore throat
  • dry cough
  • headache
  • fatigue (tiredness)
  • body aches

How to know your child has influenza

Your child's health care provider will do a general exam and may test to see if the virus is in your child's nose.

How to treat influenza

In general, treatment for the flu includes:

  • 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 instructions.
  • Don't give aspirin to children. It could cause Reye's syndrome .
  • Anti-viral medicine can reduce how severe the illness is. It works when prescribed by your health care provider within the first 48 hours.

Antibiotics will not work on viruses.

How to prevent influenza

Make sure your child:

  • covers their mouth when they cough or sneeze
  • washes their 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 (6 months or older) get an influenza vaccine each year. Ask your health care provider for details.

Parents of babies younger than 6 months old should be vaccinated to prevent the spread of influenza to their child. Children younger than six months old can't receive the vaccine

When to call your health care provider

Influenza is a serious disease. Each year, children and adults die from influenza.

Call your health care provider if your child has signs of other infection:

Call your health care provider if your child doesn't seem to improve in three to four days as most children show signs of getting better by this time. Your child will fully recover in 7 to 10 days.

Related resources

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education, Guide for the Care of Children: Ages Birth to 5, sixth edition, ped-ah-91554
First Published: 02/01/2010
Last Reviewed: 11/16/2022