Treating and Preventing the Flu

In children over 1 year of age, type A influenza can be treated with antiviral agents if given in the first day or two of the illness. This can speed recovery. Under some circumstances, antiviral agents can be taken before exposure to the flu and can prevent illness. This is particularly important for children with other health problems who have not been immunized. Antibiotics can be used to fight bacterial infections but have no effect on viruses, including the influenza viruses. Extra bed rest, extra fluids, and light, easy-to-digest meals can also help your child feel better.

If your child is uncomfortable because of fever, acetaminophen or ibuprofen in proper doses for age and weight will help him feel better. Ibuprofen is approved for use in children 6 months of age and older; however, it should never be given to children who are dehydrated or who are vomiting continuously.

Do not give aspirin to your child for the flu. An increased risk of developing Reye's syndrome (an illness that can seriously affect the liver and the brain) is associated with aspirin use during bouts of the flu and many other diseases caused by viruses.

Do not give your child over-the-counter cough or cold medicines without checking with your pediatrician.

An older child with the flu usually does not need to see the pediatrician unless the condition becomes more serious. If your child is 3 months of age or younger, however, call your pediatrician if she has a fever. For a child older than 3 months of age who has been exposed to the flu, call your pediatrician if your child experiences any of the following:

Your pediatrician may want to see your child or ask you to watch your child closely and report back if he does not improve each day.

There are safe and effective vaccines to protect against the flu. However, they are mainly recommended for children with health problems that make it risky for them to get the flu. This includes children with the following:

Children 6 months or older with these health problems should get a flu shot each fall, as should everyone in their household.

For children under 9 years of age, the vaccine requires two injections, given 1 month apart the first year it is given. After that, only one dose is needed. The best time to get the flu vaccine is in late October to early November — before the flu season starts — but vaccination should begin earlier for those needing two shots.

Since the strains of flu are different every year, a new flu vaccine is developed each year as well. The vaccine is made from killed flu viruses and helps the immune system fight the flu. Most children are immune within 2 weeks of getting the vaccine. Side effects are almost always minor and include soreness at the site of the injection and a low-grade fever.

Scientists are working on the development of a nasal spray flu vaccine. This will be a painless and effective way to protect children from the flu.

Important note: Even though there are few side effects to the vaccine, production of the vaccine involves the use of eggs. If your child has had a serious allergic reaction to eggs or egg products, he should be skin tested before getting the vaccine. If skin testing confirms hypersensitivity, the vaccine usually should not be given.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics