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Mom feeling her child's forehead for a temperature

Flu: What Parents Need to Know

By Harley Bonniville, CPNP, Pediatric Associates of Williamsburg

Every year, thousands of children younger than 5 years are hospitalized due to flu complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Last flu season, 15 children were admitted to CHKD. This year, flu cases in children have increased so exponentially that 119 have been hospitalized so far.

Flu season typically peaks in January and February. As a parent, you're probably wondering how to protect your children. Get the answers to questions most frequently asked by parents below.

What is the flu?

Influenza – the flu – is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs caused by various types of influenza viruses.

How serious is the flu?

Flu illness can range from mild to severe. Most children can be safely treated at home. However, the flu can be dangerous for young children and children with chronic illnesses, such as asthma or diabetes.

Seek immediate care by calling 911 or going to the emergency department if your child has difficult, labored, shallow, or rapid breathing or if they have blue or grayish color to their lips, tongue, or skin. If they are unresponsive, call 911.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Symptoms of the flu often mimic those of a cold. However, flu illness is usually accompanied by a high fever, body aches, and extreme exhaustion. In some cases, infected children may also have nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Flu symptoms are also consistent with COVID-19.

How does the flu spread?

Flu is most often spread through sneezing or coughing. It can also spread by touching a surface that has the flu virus on it and then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose. It is usually spread during flu season, which is from October to May in the U.S.

How long can a sick person spread the flu?

An infected person can spread the virus 24 hours before symptoms appear and five to seven days after. If symptoms persist, they may still be contagious.

Can my child go to school or daycare with the flu?

No. Keep your child home to rest and avoid passing the virus on to others. Your child can return to school once fever-free for 24 hours, without fever-reducing medicine, and symptoms have improved.

How can I protect my child against the flu?

The best way to protect yourself and your family is to get a flu vaccine every year. Doctors recommend children 6 months and older be vaccinated every year – especially those with chronic health conditions.

It's also recommended that caregivers of children younger than 6 months be vaccinated, as well as healthcare workers.

Talk with your healthcare provider about vaccines.

Is the flu vaccine safe?

Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received seasonal flu vaccines for over 50 years. Click here for flu vaccine safety information from the CDC.

Does my sick child need medical attention?

Make sure sick children get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. In some cases, children may need medical attention to treat the flu. Check out our Right Care Right Time chart for guidance on whether it's best to go to your pediatrician's office, an urgent care center, or the emergency department.

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About CHKD Medical Group

About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.