Your child is complaining of a sore throat and body aches. She has a fever. It seems like she might be coming down with the flu. What should you do?
Now that flu season is approaching, let’s start with understanding the illness you and your child might be dealing with. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. Symptoms may include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea.
If you suspect the flu, keep your child at home and treat her symptoms. “Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs,” says Scott Tomaine, DO, Regional Medical Director of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Care Network and a pediatrician at CHOP’s Primary Care location in Flourtown, PA. If your child does not fall into a high-risk category, as defined below, and they have symptoms of the flu, “They should just rest and stay hydrated,” Dr. Tomaine explains. “Pain, body aches or fevers can be treated with Tylenol® or Motrin®, as needed. It is very important that your child stays home, avoiding contact with other people, until fever-free for at least 24 hours.”
Who is considered high risk?
- Children younger than 5 years old (especially those younger than 2) and those older than 65
- Children or adolescents diagnosed with:
- Certain respiratory diseases such as asthma
- Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions such as seizure disorders
- Heart disease
- Disorders of the blood, endocrine system, kidneys, liver or the metabolic system
- Those with weakened immune systems
- People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
- People with extreme obesity
- Children with household members who have compromised immune systems, such as family members with cancer who are receiving chemotherapy
High-risk patients should get the flu test
The scenario of what you should do changes if your child falls into one of the high-risk categories. “For high-risk patients, it’s important that the flu is identified and treated early, to avoid complications in these patients,” explains Dr. Tomaine.
For high-risk patients, CHOP now offers a rapid flu test at all its primary care and urgent care locations. The test detects the genetic material of the virus from a nasal swab within 15 minutes. This test can help clinicians decide whether antiviral treatment, such as Tamiflu®, is necessary.
Antiviral drugs may make flu symptoms milder and can shorten the time your child is sick. Most importantly, for high-risk patients, the drugs may also prevent serious complications, like pneumonia. But as with all medicines, some side effects have been associated with the use of flu antiviral drugs.
Your doctor will take all these factors into consideration when deciding if your child will benefit from rapid flu testing and treatment.
Prevent the flu in the first place!
The best course of action so your child doesn’t get the flu?
- Get a flu vaccine annually.
- Wash your hands regularly.
“All our primary care centers are currently offering the flu vaccine, and we highly recommend that all children be vaccinated,” says Dr. Tomaine. “Vaccinated children are less likely to get the flu and are more likely to have a milder course of illness if they do get sick. All caregivers of children should also receive their annual flu vaccine to prevent the spread of the disease.”