Influenza (Flu) In Babies And Toddlers: Symptoms & Treatment

check_icon Research-backed

Image: Shutterstock


Flu in babies and toddlers is common during the winter and often lasts for weeks (1). The influenza virus is responsible for this contagious viral infection. Although the flu can be treated at home and is self-limiting in most cases, children with serious illnesses may require hospitalization.

Practicing good hand and respiratory hygiene can prevent flu in many babies and toddlers. In addition, babies older than six months can get a yearly flu vaccine for prevention.

Read on to learn about the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of 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
  • Fever over 100°F (37°C)
  • Body aches and headache
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

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 SymptomsCold Symptoms
High feverMild or no fever
Headache in most casesHeadache present in some cases
Clear or stuffy noseStuffy or runny nose
Sneezing observed in a few casesSneezing is very common
Severe cough and body acheMild cough and body ache
Sore throat only in some casesSore throat is common
Extreme tiredness for daysMild 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 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).

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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).

Below are some salient points about flu vaccination in babies (9) (10).

  • 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

1. 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.

2. 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 signs and symptoms of flu are commonly seen in children when they come in contact with an infected person or are exposed to an environment contaminated with the infectious droplets of flu. Although cough, sore throat, and runny nose are common symptoms of this condition, consult the pediatrician immediately if you notice your child having difficulty breathing or aggravation in their symptoms. In addition, ensure that your baby is adequately hydrated and is dressed in comfortable clothes to help them recover from the flu.

Key Pointers

  • The Influenza virus causes flu in babies.
  • The viral infection affects the respiratory system and spreads through respiratory droplets.
  • The symptoms may include fever, cough, stuffy nose, fatigue, body ache, diarrhea, and vomiting.
  • Though self-restricting, the infection may require medical attention if the baby is below six months or symptoms persist or aggravate after a week.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
The following two tabs change content below.

Dr. Dur Afshar Agha

Dr. Dur Afshar Agha is a consultant pediatrician with decades of experience in various medical facilities both in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. She has headed the Department of Preventive Pediatrics at the prestigious, Children’s Hospital and Institute of Child Health in Pakistan and is a life member of the Pakistan Paediatric Association. She has also completed her Post Graduate Program... more

Dr Bisny T. Joseph

Dr. Bisny T. Joseph is a Georgian Board-certified physician. She has completed her professional graduate degree as a medical doctor from Tbilisi State Medical University, Georgia. She has 3+ years of experience in various sectors of medical affairs as a physician, medical reviewer, medical writer, health coach, and Q&A expert. Her interest in digital medical education and patient education made... more