Influenza, Child

ExitCare ImageInfluenza ("the flu") is a viral infection of the respiratory tract. It occurs more often in winter months because people spend more time in close contact with one another. Influenza can make you feel very sick. Influenza easily spreads from person to person (contagious).


Influenza is caused by a virus that infects the respiratory tract. You can catch the virus by breathing in droplets from an infected person's cough or sneeze. You can also catch the virus by touching something that was recently contaminated with the virus and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.


Symptoms typically last 4 to 10 days. Symptoms can vary depending on the age of the child and may include:

  • Fever.

  • Chills.

  • Body aches.

  • Headache.

  • Sore throat.

  • Cough.

  • Runny or congested nose.

  • Poor appetite.

  • Weakness or feeling tired.

  • Dizziness.

  • Nausea or vomiting.


Diagnosis of influenza is often made based on your child's history and a physical exam. A nose or throat swab test can be done to confirm the diagnosis.


Your child may be at risk for a more severe case of influenza if he or she has chronic heart disease (such as heart failure) or lung disease (such as asthma), or if he or she has a weakened immune system. Infants are also at risk for more serious infections. The most common complication of influenza is a lung infection (pneumonia). Sometimes, this complication can require emergency medical care and may be life-threatening.


An annual influenza vaccination (flu shot) is the best way to avoid getting influenza. An annual flu shot is now routinely recommended for all U.S. children over 6 months old. Two flu shots given at least 1 month apart are recommended for children 6 months old to 8 years old when receiving their first annual flu shot.


In mild cases, influenza goes away on its own. Treatment is directed at relieving symptoms. For more severe cases, your child's caregiver may prescribe antiviral medicines to shorten the sickness. Antibiotic medicines are not effective, because the infection is caused by a virus, not by bacteria.


  • Only give over-the-counter or prescription medicines for pain, discomfort, or fever as directed by your child's caregiver. Do not give aspirin to children.

  • Use cough syrups if recommended by your child's caregiver. Always check before giving cough and cold medicines to children under the age of 4 years.

  • Use a cool mist humidifier to make breathing easier.

  • Have your child rest until his or her temperature returns to normal. This usually takes 3 to 4 days.

  • Have your child drink enough fluids to keep his or her urine clear or pale yellow.

  • Clear mucus from young children's noses, if needed, by gentle suction with a bulb syringe.

  • Make sure older children cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

  • Wash your hands and your child's hands well to avoid spreading the virus.

  • Keep your child home from day care or school until the fever has been gone for at least 1 full day.


  • Your child has ear pain. In young children and babies, this may cause crying and waking at night.

  • Your child has chest pain.

  • Your child has a cough that is worsening or causing vomiting.


  • Your child starts breathing fast, has trouble breathing, or his or her skin turns blue or purple.

  • Your child is not drinking enough fluids.

  • Your child will not wake up or interact with you.  

  • Your child feels so sick that he or she does not want to be held.  

  • Your child gets better from the flu but gets sick again with a fever and cough.  


  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your child's condition.

  • Will get help right away if your child is not doing well or gets worse.