Flu is a contagious viral infection caused by the influenza virus and is common in children during the winter season (1). The infection usually lasts for a week in most children but some have a more serious illness and may need to be treated in hospital. However flu is preventable through adequate hygiene and vaccination.
In this post, we will discuss the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and preventive measures for flu in babies and toddlers.
How Does Flu Spread?
Flu spreads when children inhale the tiny respiratory droplets expelled by an infected person during sneezing or coughing (2). These droplets contain the influenza virus which can live for a short time on surfaces. If a baby touches a contaminated object and then touches his or her mouth, nose, or eyes they could get influenza.
An infected person could also spread the virus by holding the baby or touching the baby’s personal items with unclean hands, especially after sneezing or coughing into them (3). People are most contagious with the flu 24 hours before symptoms start, continuing while symptoms are most active.
Signs And Symptoms Of Flu In Babies
A baby with flu could display the following signs and symptoms (4).
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Cough and sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Fever over 100°F (37°C)
- Body aches and headache
Vomiting and diarrhea are more common in younger babies. Some infants may have no fever, while others may develop a high fever. Many flu symptoms overlap with those of the common cold. Therefore, it is essential to differentiate between them.
Flu Symptoms VS Cold Symptoms
Below are some of the notable differences between cold and flu symptoms (1).
|Flu Symptoms||Cold Symptoms|
|High fever||Mild or no fever|
|Headache in most cases||Headache present in some cases|
|Clear or stuffy nose||Stuffy or runny nose|
|Sneezing observed in a few cases||Sneezing is very common|
|Severe cough and body ache||Mild cough and body ache|
|Sore throat only in some cases||Sore throat is common|
|Extreme tiredness for days||Mild tiredness is observed|
When To See A Doctor?
Consult a doctor in the following scenarios (5).
- Your baby is younger than six months.
- The symptoms aggravate .
- There is no improvement even after a week.
- The baby develops loss of appetite.
- There are less frequent soiled diapers.
- The baby has difficulty in breathing.
The doctor may take a sample of mucus to check for the presence of the influenza virus. A blood test may also be done to rule out other possible conditions.
How Is Flu In Babies And Toddlers Treated?
The treatment of flu depends on the severity of symptoms. Antibiotics do not work against flu since it is a viral infection. The doctor may suggest any of the following treatments for flu in babies (6).
- Medicines for fever and body aches: Commonly acetaminophen is given. Don’t give aspirin to a child with a fever .
- Antiviral medications: These may be required in babies younger than two years with severe symptoms. Antiviral medications for flu are most effective when prescribed within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. However, they do not cure the flu but only ease symptoms and shorten the length of illness.
Not all babies require antiviral medicines, and some may feel better with acetaminophen alone. Home care plays a vital role in helping the baby recover from the flu.
Home Remedies For Flu In Babies And Toddlers
The following homecare interventions could help a baby with flu recover (6).
- Hydration: Dehydration may occur due to flu. Therefore, provide the baby with adequate fluids. You may increase the frequency of breastfeeding, while older babies can be provided with purees and broth.
- Rest: Flu can take a toll on your baby’s energy levels. Ensure that they get enough rest. Cut down physical activity, including crawling indoors.
- Keep the baby comfortable: Flu could make the little one cranky. Dress the baby appropriately and keep the room temperature optimum to keep them comfortable.
Do not self-medicate the baby. If you wish to give an over-the-counter medicine, speak to a doctor first. Babies and toddlers recover from flu in a few days to a week, but may continue to feel a bit lethargic for up to four weeks.
How To Prevent Flu In Babies And Toddlers?
Prevention of flu in babies and toddlers is easy and can be done through the following measures.
1. Vaccinate the baby
According to the CDC, flu could cause lasting complications, such as asthma and sinus problems, in children younger than five years (7). Vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza infection and its complications (8).
- All infants older than six months must get the flu vaccine.
- Children from the age of six months to two years are eligible for the injectable form of the vaccine. The nasal spray form of the vaccine is recommended for children older than two years.
- There are two shots of the vaccine when taking it for the first time. The first shot is followed by a booster shot after four weeks.
- The vaccine is recommended once a year before the flu season. Once the baby has the first two shots, they can take only one shot every season.
- In some cases, the baby may not need a shot each year. Speak to your baby’s pediatrician to know if your baby may get a flu shot each year.
- Your baby must get the flu shot even if they have no flu symptoms.
- You must get your baby vaccinated even if they have recovered from a previous influenza infection, as it may not provide immunity.
- The vaccine may cause low-grade fever for a day in some babies. The vaccine is safe, and its benefits outweigh the risks.
2. Practice good hygiene
Good personal hygiene is essential to avoid several illnesses, including flu. It is even more vital when the baby is younger than six months and not eligible for the flu shot. Observe the following hygiene measures to prevent flu.
- Wash hands before touching the baby or their personal items. Hands should be washed thoroughly for 20 seconds to disinfect them.
- Do not share cutlery with the baby. You must not allow the baby’s siblings to eat from the baby’s cup or plate.
- Teach the baby’s siblings to sneeze in a handkerchief. Ask them to wash their hands if they happen to sneeze into their hands.
- If you happen to sneeze or cough in a tissue paper, dispose of it immediately.
- Use a baby-safe disinfectant to wipe clean the baby’s toys and other items.
- Keep the baby’s room clean by periodically disinfecting the floor and windows, especially during the flu season.
3. Avoid those with flu
If there are people with flu around the baby, you could keep the following points in mind.
- Ask the infected family member to avoid going near the baby. They must also not touch the baby’s personal items.
- Keep the infected person’s personal items and cutlery separate from those of the baby.
- If the mother develops flu, she may continue to breastfeed by wearing a mask and observing all personal hygiene measures, such as washing hands.
- A mother should not stop breastfeeding if she has flu. Influenza virus does not transmit through breast milk (11). On the contrary, breast milk could contain maternal flu antibodies that may provide some protection to the baby.
- If the mother is too unwell to breastfeed the baby, she may ask a family member or caregiver to feed expressed milk to the baby.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Will my child get the flu if my partner or I have it?
A baby may get the infection if you do not observe adequate preventive measures, such as good personal hygiene. You could avoid the risk of transmission by observing precautions.
- How can I keep my child from spreading the flu to others?
If your baby has flu, you must observe the same preventive measures. You may also wash the baby’s clothes and cutlery in a baby-safe disinfectant. According to the WHO, children younger than five years need not wear a mask since they cannot manage it independently (12).
The flu is a common illness in babies and toddlers. It is important to identify the symptoms of flu compared to a common cold. If a family member has the flu, make sure they stay away from your baby to prevent them from catching it. The infection can be prevented through appropriate hygiene and vaccination with the flu vaccine.
2. Key Facts About Influenza (Flu); CDC
3. How Flu Spreads; Appalachian State University
4. Flu Symptoms & Complications; CDC
5. Your baby and the flu; U.S. National Library of Medicine
6. The Flu; American Academy of Pediatrics
7. Flu & Young Children; CDC
8. Influenza (the flu); The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne
9. Flu (Influenza); U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
10. Vaccine for Flu (Influenza); CDC
11. Influenza (Flu); CDC
12. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Children and masks; WHO