Sick baby care
Influenza (flu) and your baby
Influenza is commonly called the “flu.” Many people say they have the flu when they really have just a cold or a cough. If your baby gets influenza, it can cause serious illness. And for some, it can be life-threatening. It’s really important for babies and young children to be protected from the flu.
Influenza is easily spread from person to person. When someone with influenza coughs, sneezes or speaks, the virus spreads through the air. Your baby can get infected with influenza if she breathes it in. She also can get infected if she touches something (like a toy) that has the influenza virus on it and then she touches her nose, eyes or mouth.
The best way to protect your baby from influenza is to get her the influenza vaccine (flu shot) each year before flu season starts in October. She can get the shot from her health care provider. Many pharmacies and work places also offer it each fall. Even though your baby is more likely to get influenza during flu season (October through May), she can get it any time of year.
What are the symptoms of flu?
Flu symptoms include:
- Cough (Don’t give over-the-counter cough and cold products to your baby or young child. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these medicines can cause serious health problems for children.)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Being tired
- Vomiting and diarrhea
Fever and most other symptoms can last a week or longer.
Does your child need the influenza vaccine?
Yes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone older than 6 months get the influenza vaccine each year. The 2012-2013 influenza vaccine protects your child against seasonal flu and the 2009 H1N1 flu (a kind of flu that spread around the world in 2009). It’s important to get your child vaccinated each year because flu viruses are always changing and protection from the vaccine only lasts about 1 year.
It’s important for children younger than 5 to get the vaccine because they’re more likely than older kids to have health problems caused by influenza. Some children younger than age 9 need two doses of the vaccine. Ask your child’s provider if one dose is enough.
The influenza vaccine is safe for most children. But check with your child’s provider to make sure the vaccine is safe if your child:
- Is allergic to eggs. The influenza vaccine is made with eggs.
- Has had the influenza vaccine before and had a serious reaction to it
- Has had Guillain-Barré syndrome after getting the influenza vaccine. This is an illness that can cause paralysis (being unable to move).
Having influenza can be really dangerous for children with chronic health problems, like asthma, heart disease, sickle cell disease, diabetes, cancer and HIV. If your child has these or other health conditions and she is older than 6 months, be sure she gets the influenza vaccine each fall. Flu season lasts from October through May.
If you take care of a child younger than 5 years old, get the influenza vaccine yourself. This is really important if you take care of a baby younger than 6 months old. Babies this age are too young to get the influenza vaccine. Getting the vaccine yourself can help prevent you from spreading influenza.
How is the influenza vaccine given?
The influenza vaccine is given in two ways:
- Flu shot
- Flu mist. This is a nasal spray. Children older than 2 years can get the flu mist unless they have certain health conditions, like asthma or heart and lung problems.
If you’re not sure which vaccine is best for your child, ask his health care provider or visit flu.gov.
How is flu treated?
If your child has flu symptoms, call his health care provider right away. His provider may recommend medicine that kills infections caused by viruses.
Be sure your child gets lots of rest and drinks plenty of fluids. She may not want to eat much. Try giving her small meals to help her body get better.
If your child seems uncomfortable from a fever, ask the provider if you can give your child infant's or children's acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Motrin® or Advil®). Never give aspirin to a child who has a fever without checking with his health care provider. Aspirin can cause a rare but life-threatening liver disorder called Reye syndrome in children with certain illnesses, such as colds, flu and chickenpox.
How can you stop influenza from spreading?
If your child has influenza, he can spread it to others. Take the following steps to help prevent influenza from spreading:
- Don’t kiss your child on or around the mouth. But a hug is a good thing!
- Teach your child to cough or sneeze into a tissue or his arm. Throw used tissues in the trash.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before and after caring for your child. You also can use alcohol-based hand rubs.
- Use hot, soapy water or a dishwasher to clean your child’s dishes and utensils.
- Don’t share any of your child’s dishes, glasses, utensils or his toothbrush.
- Limit your child’s contact with others.
When should you call your child’s health care provider?
Contact your child's health care provider right away if your child has any of these signs:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or not interacting
- Being so irritable that she doesn’t want to be held
- Flu symptoms that improve but return with fever and worse cough
- Fever with a rash
For more information
Last reviewed October 2012