Influenza, or “the flu,” is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract (nose, throat and lungs) that can cause secondary complications and attack other target organs in the body. The flu is not just a bad cold! Flu symptoms tend to develop quickly (usually 1 to 4 days after a person is exposed to the flu virus) and are usually more severe than the typical sneezing and congestion associated with the common cold.
Flu symptoms can include:
- Extreme tiredness
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle aches
- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are also common symptoms in children.
A person infected with the flu virus will typically suffer from the illness for approximately 7 to 10 days. Every year in the U.S., the flu and associated complications lead to more than 200,000 hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths.
Each year, between 5 and 20 percent of the U.S. population develops the flu. People with flu are most contagious in the first three to four days after their illness begins. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 24 hours before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Children can typically spread the virus for longer. An annual flu vaccination can help prevent the spread of influenza between individuals and may help save lives of those most susceptible of having severe and fatal complications from flu.
Who Should Get Vaccinated Against the Flu?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated against flu every year. Infants younger than 6 months old are too young to be vaccinated. To protect these infants, it’s important that pregnant women get vaccinated, as well as people who will come into close contact with these infants after birth, such as other family members and caregivers. Remember that getting vaccinated protects you, your loved ones, and your community! The more people that are vaccinated, the less chance the flu virus has to spread.
How Serious is the Flu in Children?
Children have the highest chance of getting sick from flu and often spread the germs throughout their communities. During bad flu seasons, approximately 30 percent of school-aged children fall ill with flu. Recent data on flu vaccination coverage in the U.S. indicate that a significant portion of the population is not vaccinated against flu. As a result, every year in the U.S., children miss approximately 38 million school days due to flu.
Influenza is one of the leading causes of infectious disease hospitalizations among young children. Approximately 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized due to flu each year. Infants and toddlers are hospitalized as a result of influenza at rates similar to elderly people and at higher rates than people of all other ages.
On average, nearly 100 children die in the United States from influenza and its complications every year.
Emergency warning signs of flu in children can include:
- High and prolonged fever (102 degrees or above for more than 72 hours)
- Changes in mental condition, such as not waking up or not interacting; being so moody that the child does not want to be held; or seizures
- Bluish or gray skin color
- Drop in body temperature (hypothermia)
- Difficulty breathing
- Not able to take in the usual amount of fluids
- Flu-like symptoms improve, but then return with fever or worse cough
- Worsening of underlying medical complications (for example, heart or lung disease, diabetes)
- If your child presents any of these symptoms, please seek medical attention right away!