Childhood Illnesses

Flu and Your Baby

The flu (influenza) is a contagious illness. Symptoms include high fever, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, headache, dry cough and runny nose. The fever and most symptoms last about five days.
The flu (influenza) is a contagious illness. It is caused by one of three types of influenza viruses. The viruses typically circulate during winter months (November through March). These viruses spread through the air in droplets from an infected person's cough or sneeze, as well as by contact with infected surfaces or hands.

Your child may have the flu if she:

  • Suddenly develops a high fever (above 101° F)
  • Has chills
  • Has muscle aches
  • Is very tired
  • Has a headache
  • Has a dry cough (Do not give over-the-counter cough and cold products to infants and young children. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, these medications can have serious and life-threatening side effects.) 
  • Has a runny nose

The fever and most other symptoms last about five days. The cough may linger for up to two weeks. Antibiotics do not work to treat the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends yearly flu immunization for healthy children between the ages of 6 months and 18 years. Immunization is especially important for young children because, between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, they are at increased risk of complications and hospitalization due to the flu.

For children between the ages of 0 months and 5 years, anyone living in the same house or caring for the child should be immunized against the flu. This helps prevent the disease from spreading within the household.

Some children with chronic health problems are at increased risk of serious complications from the flu. This includes children with asthma, heart disease, sickle cell disease, diabetes, HIV and those undergoing cancer treatment. After these children reach 6 months of age, they should be immunized against the flu each fall.

Call your child's health care provider right away if your child:

  • Develops any fever of more than 100.4° F in the first 3 months of life, 101° F or greater between 3 and 6 months, or 103° F after 6 months of age.
  • Has trouble breathing, appears to have ear or face pain, or looks very ill. Some children develop complications from the flu, such as pneumonia or ear or sinus infections.
  • Has a cough that worsens or that lingers more than a week.

When your child has the flu, be sure she gets lots of rest and drinks plenty of fluids. She may not want to eat much. Offer her small meals that can be easily digested.

If your child seems uncomfortable from the fever, ask the provider if you can give her infant's or children's acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil). Never give aspirin to a child or teenager who has a fever without checking with your 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).

 

Because your child most likely is contagious for about seven days after symptoms begin, have her wash her hands frequently during this time. Also wash your hands after caring for your child. Dispose of tissues promptly to help avoid spreading the illness to others.

To help reduce your baby's risk of getting the flu, ask your child's provider about flu immunization (if your baby is older than 6 months). Keep her away from crowds when there are a lot of flu cases in your community.

For more information on influenza, including the flu and pregnancy:

  • Read the article on flu and pregnancy on the March of Dimes Web site
  • Visit the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • For information about where to get immunizations for seasonal flu, go to Flu Clinic Locator.

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