What To Do If Your Child Gets the Flu

Classrooms are getting empty, lunches with relatives and planned vacations are likely to be canceled because of last-minute fevers. What is the flu and why is it forcing millions of children of the boot-shaped peninsula into bed? Welcome to the world of our little heroes’ flu adventures: in the following article we will explore contagious sneezes, rebellious thermometers and frantic runs to the warmth of the bed.

Table of Contents

What is the flu?

Flu is a viral infectious disease caused by influenza viruses, a small band of hooligans that cause epidemics all around the globe especially during the winter season, when people, due to cold temperatures, stay longer in indoor, crowded spaces.

How is it transmitted?

Imagine the flu as a party to which no one wants to be invited, but it always ends up making room for itself among the guests!

Yes, because flu viruses are true social experts, enthusiastically spreading in saliva droplets spread through sneezes, coughs, hugs, kisses and virus-friendly handshakes. In light of the above, what are the ideal places of contagion if not schools?

What are the symptoms?

After coming in contact with flu viruses, it takes approximately 2 days before you begin to experience classic symptoms.

These include a variable combination of fever, cough, malaise, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, cold, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of appetite.

In short, the clinical presentation is variable and never obvious, which is a problem especially in younger children, who are unable to verbalize their discomfort!

Can there be complications?

Fortunately, in healthy children and adults flu generally self-limits in less than a week without presenting complications – although the cough may persist a bit longer.

On the other hand, particularly in high-risk individuals (children less than 2 years old or those with asthma, cardiac disease or other chronic conditions), some complications may emerge.

Ear ache? Perhaps an ear infection has set in.

Cough getting worse? Perhaps pneumonia has set in.

Does the child have difficulty breathing? Perhaps laryngitis or, in toddlers, bronchiolitis may have appeared.

Diagnosing Flu

Diagnosis of influenza is based on recognition of symptoms; viral isolation tests are reserved for the few cases at high risk of complications or for hospitalized patients.

The best-known test is the rapid antigen test, which can also be purchased at pharmacies and which uses a nasopharyngeal swab (sometimes associated with the possibility of also simultaneously detecting Sars-CoV2 virus).

What to do if you have the flu?

Science and folk tradition propose rest and hydration as the classic flu remedies.

Resting helps the immune system fight the infection, promoting healing.

Encouraging your child to drink fluids such as water, broths (and, in infants, breast milk or formula) prevents dehydration.

To manage fever and relieve various aches and pains, it is helpful to administer either paracetamol or ibuprofen as needed – trying not to alternate and sticking strictly to the recommended doses.

Also, don’t forget regular nasal hygiene and a light, easy-to-digest diet; if the child is not very hungry, don’t force food down his or her throat and focus on hydration!

Only those who develop complications such as otitis and pneumonia are candidates for antibiotics, while antiviral drugs can be given within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms in those at high risk of complicated illness.

How to avoid contagion?

First in importance is regular hand washing: a measure that will prevent contagion and the spread of the flu to other unfortunates!

As long as the child has symptoms, moreover, isolation is imperative and returning to school is prohibited.

If, however, the child does not have a fever at that time, a walk is not only allowed, but more beneficial than staying indoors at home.

flu symptoms

What if the fever does not come down?

If the fever does not drop (or does so only slightly) after the administration of either paracetamol or ibuprofen, do not be alarmed right away: not even if it is high (over 39°C) fever is a danger sign by itself; all other symptoms and the general condition of the child should be considered.

After consulting with your doctor, consider a new approach or a visit soon.

Grandmother’s remedies, such as sponging, are now obsolete and contraindicated because they only risk giving stress for almost no benefit.

Why is there cough?

Along with fever, cough represents one of the most common flu symptoms.

It is a natural response of the body as a response to the irritation and inflammation caused by influenza viruses to the respiratory mucosa.

Through coughing, the body clears the respiratory tract of mucus, secretions and particles

foreign matter, helping to keep the airways clean and prevent the accumulation of potentially harmful material.

It can vary in intensity and present as dry or productive, but if it tends to worsen, is associated with difficulty breathing or brings a lot of discomfort, it is worth taking your child to the pediatrician!

When to worry?

The flu triggers panic into many parents, who when faced with fever and other flu symptoms in children can hardly get their heads around it.

And just speaking of fever, if it affects infants less than 3 months old, if it persists beyond 3 days or is persistently elevated (over 39°C), a doctor should be contacted shortly.

Dehydration is the other critical aspect to be monitored during influenza, especially if the latter presents with diarrhea or vomiting: decreased urine output, dryness of the lips, a dejected general state, and lack of tears at times of crying should alert any parent.

Respiratory distress, on the other hand, represents a sign of seriousness that requires immediate attention: wheezing or breathing struggles require medical evaluation without delay, particularly in individuals with preexisting conditions such as asthma or with a prior history of bronchiolitis or recurrent bronchitis.

Major changes in the child’s behavior such as excessive sleepiness, lethargy, or confusion are also worthy of medical advice.

Why does he continue to have little appetite?

The fever is gone and the worst is over; why, however, does the child continue to remain inappetent and weak?

It may be some residual pain in the throat or an altered sense of taste, making the idea of eating less appealing.

Also, the body is focusing on restoring energy, “diverting” attention away from appetite.

I invite to have no fear and getting lots of patience. To encourage the return of appetite, offer frequent, light meals and provide plenty of fluids.

Does cold weather give you the flu?

This is a popular belief; actually, there is no established correlation between cold and ailments (including flu).

At the same time, it is undeniable that the flu syndrome rages during the winter season.

How to explain this association?

Cold weather can affect the spread of viruses in two ways: as already anticipated, in cold environments, people tend to congregate indoors, facilitating person-to-person virus transmission.

In addition, cold can impair the effectiveness of the immune system in particular by interacting with the normal function of the respiratory mucosa, making the body more vulnerable.


Is the vaccine helpful?

Yes, flu vaccine is useful in preventing infection with influenza viruses and reducing their severity.

However, the effectiveness is not total: it is around 70% and does not include protection from viral illnesses other than influenza (such as Covid-19).

Taking into account the flu peak between December and January, it is advisable to get vaccinated around mid-November.

Is intramuscular or intranasal vaccine better?

Choosing between intramuscular and intranasal vaccine depends on several factors, including patient’s age, health status, and physician preference.

The most commonly used one is the intramuscular one, which is available as early as 6 months of age, while the nasal one is indicated only from 2 years of age.

Both types of vaccine, however, are designed to stimulate the immune system to produce a response against influenza viruses.

Key Points

  • 1

    Influenza is caused by influenza A and B viruses

  • 2

    Transmission occurs through saliva droplets dispersed in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes

  • 3

    Children younger than 2 years of age and with chronic medical conditions are more susceptible to flu complications

  • 4

    Influenza often, but not exclusively, causes fever and cough

  • 5

    Diagnosis is almost always based on clinical symptoms

  • 6

    Rest and hydration are crucial

  • 7

    Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used to manage fever and pain under doctor’s supervision

  • 8

    Regular hand-washing and home-isolation are necessary to avoid contagion

  • 9

    If the child has difficulty breathing, difficulty maintaining normal hydration, fever for more than 3 days or persistently high, lethargic or very dejected state, the pediatrician should be contacted shortly

  • 10

    Annual vaccination is recommended for all children older than 6 months to reduce the risk of contracting influenza and associated complications

What can Medinaction do?

Thanks to the service we provide, our english-speaking physicians and pediatricians can come to your home the same day as soon as possible, ready to offer the best care you and your children need.

About the Author: Dr. Matteo Cianci

Born in Rome in 1990, he graduated in Medicine and Surgery in 2015 in "La Sapienza" University. He then specialized in Pediatrics doing his last years of training at the Emergency Department of the Bambino Gesù Children's Hospital in Rome, and has been practicing pediatrics as a freelancer ever since. Since 2021, he's the leading pediatrician in Medinaction.