Proper handwashing is very important to preventing the spread of viruses.
For more tips, visit the Canadian Paediatric Society’s website
The term ‘flu’ is often used to describe anything that makes us feel unwell. However, flu, which is a short form of the word influenza, is the specific virus that can cause respiratory symptoms and, at times, life-threatening illness. Symptoms of influenza generally include fever, muscle aches, headache and cough, as well as tiredness, sore throat, and stuffy or runny nose. Younger children may also have diarrhea, vomiting, and a stomach ache. They may be irritable and have a poor appetite. Symptoms can vary widely between children. Even siblings in the same family can have different symptoms from the same virus.
Influenza affects people of all ages, but children under five years of age can have serious symptoms and may need treatment in the hospital. Children with weakened immune systems, diabetes, or lung conditions like asthma are at higher risk of developing complications. However, even previously healthy children can become very ill. Complications from influenza include pneumonia, difficulties breathing and even death.
Influenza is passed from person to person through tiny droplets from the nose or mouth during sneezing, coughing and talking. People who contact these droplets and then touch their own mouth, nose, or eyes can become infected.
Symptoms develop quickly, usually about one to four days after contact with an infected person. They generally last seven to 10 days.
COMPARING INFLUENZA AND THE COMMON COLD
Signs and Symptoms
|Muscle aches||Usual||Sometimes, mild|
|Chest discomfort, cough||Common||Mild to moderate|
The common cold can have similar symptoms to influenza. Mild cases of influenza may even resemble a cold. However, colds do not have the severe symptoms that can accompany influenza.
Many different respiratory viruses can cause the common cold. Like influenza, these viruses are also passed from person to person through small droplets from the nose and mouth. The most common symptoms are a sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing and coughing. Fever, chills and muscle aches are rare. Symptoms tend to develop gradually over the course of a few days, and generally last less than 10 days.
Serious health concerns are rare with the common cold, but some complications can occur. The most common ones include sinus infections and ear aches. Children who have lung conditions may also develop bronchitis, an irritation of the main tubes of the lungs.
If the disease comes on gradually, is not too severe, and resolves in one to two weeks, then it is usually a common cold. Fever and more severe symptoms, especially muscle aches, chest pain and chills, suggest influenza.
A cold can be mistaken for hay fever (allergy) or a bacterial disease like a sinus infection or strep throat. However, allergies usually recur and can last for an entire season. Strep throat causes soreness in the throat and neck glands but spares the nose and chest. Sinus infection symptoms include green nasal discharge and pain or tenderness, often in the cheeks or upper teeth. In children with a bacterial sinus infection, the condition often gets worse one week after the cold begins. When
Children should not take acetylsalicylic acid (also known as ASA or Aspirin) as it can cause liver and brain swelling. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses.
Influenza usually takes away a child’s appetite for the first few days. Parents should continue offering fluids especially when fever is present. Children should pass urine at least three times (or have three wet diapers) in a 24-hour period. If they are peeing less than this, dehydration is a concern.
An anti-viral medication may be used to prevent or treat influenza in certain populations, such as people in nursing homes or those who require hospitalization due to severe symptoms. Your health care provider can let you know if it is appropriate to treat your child with this medication. Generally, it is not used for otherwise healthy children.
this happens, parents may notice foul-smelling breath and cough.
The usual treatment for influenza or another respiratory virus is usually to rest in bed and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can relieve fever and discomfort. Acetaminophen can be given every four hours, and ibuprofen every six to eight hours. Follow the instructions on the bottle.
An annual influenza vaccine (the ‘flu shot’) is recommended for all children over the age of six months. This vaccination can be critical for children with special high-risk conditions, such as cancer or chronic disease of the heart, lungs, or kidneys. Pregnant women are also encouraged to get the flu shot, as this helps protect an unborn baby by passing on antibodies. Babies that will be born during flu season are particularly vulnerable, as infants must be six months old to get the vaccination themselves.
The vaccine is made of an inactive or ‘dead’ form of the virus. It cannot cause influenza, but rather stimulates the immune system to create antibodies. These antibodies in turn defend against infection or reduce the severity of the illness.
Since the immune system takes time to respond, schedule a vaccination as soon as it is offered to the public. This allows time for antibodies to form. It takes about two weeks for the immune system to create antibodies after getting the shot. It is possible to be exposed to and infected with influenza shortly after vaccination, before the body has time to develop the antibodies.
The most common side effect of the flu shot in children and adults is soreness at the vaccination site. Others include fever, tiredness, and sore muscles that may begin six to 12 hours after the vaccination and last for up to two days. This vaccine is safe to give to people who have an egg allergy.
A virus like influenza is highly contagious, spreading so rapidly that it can be difficult to stop. Teach older children to cough or sneeze into their elbow. They should use tissues to wipe their noses and wash their hands afterwards. Keep sick children away from elderly persons and anyone with a chronic illness.
There are many different types of influenza. The two main types of influenza causing seasonal flu outbreaks are influenza A and influenza B.
Call your family doctor if you feel worried about any aspect of your child’s illness. Seek medical attention immediately if your child:
Once your child feels better and has a normal temperature, it is time to return to normal activities. A lingering cough is not necessarily a reason to keep your child at home.
With time, rest and care, cold and flu symptoms will pass. However, don’t hesitate to contact your health care professional if your child seems to be struggling.