20,000. That is the number of children under the age of five, who get hospitalized because of influenza complications every year. And that is in the US alone (1). A horrifying statistic for parents, isn’t it?
The number of fatalities due to this contagious respiratory disease is not as high. But the fact that the illness could lead to death is worrisome. The good news is that influenza can be treated, and even prevented. MomJunction We tell you how to identify the flu symptoms in children and about the treatment options for influenza in children. Also, do not miss to know how it can be prevented, after all prevention is better than cure.
Influenza: What Is It?
Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease caused by the influenza virus. The strains fall into three categories: Influenza-A, Influenza-B, and Influenza-C. The classification depends on the general effect of each strain. Influenza strains further split into specific units like H1N1, H5N1, etc., depending on the surface proteins on the virus. The commonality among all these strains is that the virus usually affects your lungs and the respiratory system.
Some of the typical types of flu around the world include:
- H1N1 (Swine Flu)
- H5N1 (Bird Flu)
Flu begins as a contagious disease and escalates to an epidemic, depending on local hygiene conditions, and environmental and climatic situations.
While the influenza virus can affect anyone at any time of the year, most people are prone to the disease during the flu season, which begins in October and lasts through May (2). The illness peaks between the months of December and March when a number of children and other vulnerable individuals are affected. In tropical countries like India, flu is more rampant during monsoon season with peak being observed between June and September.
[ Read: Swine Flu In Children ]
Who Is At Risk Of Getting The Flu?
Influenza can affect anyone, but high-risk people include:
- Children under the age of five years, especially infants less than two years of age.
- Pregnant and postpartum women.
- People living in nursing homes or such long-term care facilities.
- Seniors aged 65 or more.
Children with the following illnesses are also at a greater risk of getting the flu (3):
- Blood disorders
- Kidney disorders
- Liver disorders
- Neurological conditions or neuro-developmental conditions
- Extreme obesity
- Chronic lung disease
- A weakened immune system
- Endocrine disorders
- Congenital heart disease
- Metabolic disorders
Individuals less than 19 years of age undergoing long-term aspirin therapy also come under the high-risk category.
Influenza In Children
Children are at a greater risk than adults because their immune system is still developing and weaker than the adults. Influenza is responsible for hospitalization and even death of some children every year. The best way to fight it is to attack it early on. To do that, you need to know what causes influenza.
Causes Of Influenza And How It Spreads
The contagious influenza virus spreads from one person to another through air, water, food and touch. So your children can contract the flu when they:
- Come into contact with a flu-infected person who is sneezing or coughing.
- Touching or sharing things with other kids who have the flu; the influenza virus survives on things such as pencils and door knobs.
- Sharing water containers or food with other children or adults who have the flu.
The flu contagious period starts from the day before symptoms begin to show and lasts up to seven days after the symptoms develop. Children who contract the flu are most contagious in the first 24 hours of getting the virus. That makes it harder to prevent the spread of the flu.
Symptoms Of The Flu In Children
There is every chance that you mistake the symptoms of flu to be those of cold. They are similar but have some crucial differences.
Cold Vs. Flu:
- The fundamental difference between cold and flu is that both occur due to different kinds of viruses. There is no treatment for cold. You can either prevent it or manage its symptoms. Consider using various home remedies to cure it.
Flu, as we mentioned above, occurs due to a virus that belongs to the influenza family. There are cures for the influenza virus.
- Influenza exhibits other symptoms such as a headache, along with common cold-like symptoms including congestion, cough and sore throat and muscle pains. Influenza also leads to vomiting and diarrhea, and high fever.
Symptoms of the flu in children are more severe than a little wheezing or a cough. Influenza symptoms begin two days after the child contracts the virus. Signs you should watch out for include:
- Muscle or body pain
- Tiredness and weakness
- A runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Loss of appetite, followed by nausea or vomiting
- Ear pain
These symptoms are common among patients who contract the Influenza A or B virus, which causes seasonal influenza.
Kids who contract the type C influenza may also show the following symptoms:
- Watery eyes
- Red eyes, nose, throat, and skin
Type C influenza is rare and does not cause epidemics.
Remember that influenza is a far more dangerous and life-threatening condition than a common cold. It is a viral infection that spreads quickly. Therefore, you cannot wait to take your child to a doctor.
When To See The Doctor?
Take your child to the pediatrician or a GP if he or she has fever and:
- is unable to drink fluids, or won’t drink them
- is sleepy and pale
- vomits frequently
- has difficulty breathing
- has a severe headache
[ Read: Nasal Congestion In Children ]
Rush to emergency medical care if:
- your child’s lips turn blue
- the child is limping or unable to move
- he seems dazed or confused
- he has a stiff neck
- he has a seizure
How To Treat The Flu In Children?
Doctors may prescribe a specific treatment to your child based on his or her age, medical history, physical fitness and other health conditions. The treatment may include a few or all of the following:
- Fever medication such as paracetamol and pain medication such as ibuprofen are given for body aches. Do not give your kids aspirin without consulting your doctor.
- Bed rest. A lot of rest can help him recover quickly.
- Cough medication, as prescribed by the doctor. Avoid using any over-the-counter (OTC) medications for a cough or a sore throat.
- Your pediatrician may also prescribe a few anti-viral medications to shorten the duration of the illness. These medications are not for curing the disease.
- The doctor may advise you to increase the intake of fluids.
The flu treatment in children is more about reducing the severity of the symptoms of the flu than cure the disease.
How Long Does The Flu Last In Children?
Most of the flu symptoms usually last for five days or less. After that, the child may still have weakness and cough. With proper care and treatment, all the symptoms of the flu disappear in around two weeks.
Sometimes, exhaustion from the disease lasts as long as four to five weeks. If not taken seriously, the condition could worsen and lead to pneumonia or other respiratory diseases with serious implications.
As it takes some time for the suffering to subside, you may support your child with some home remedies that have no side-effects.
[ Read: Viral Infection In Children ]
Home Remedies For Treating Flu
Home remedies or organic treatment options can help in alleviating the flu symptoms in children, but not eliminate the virus completely. Here are a few tried and tested home remedies for fighting flu in young children.
1. Drink lots of water
Your child may refuse to drink any liquids or may have difficulty swallowing them due to a sore throat or nausea. This can result in dehydration and make it difficult for the body to heal naturally. Make your child drink plenty of water every day.
2. Soups are good
Hot liquids like soups and warm water with lemon are excellent remedies to soothe a sore throat. Chicken soup is the traditional quick-fix for the flu. You can get your child to drink it once or twice a day to boost his weakened immunity and fight the virus. Hot liquids will soothe the inflamed membranes of the nose and throat and give your child the much-needed relief.
The immune system in your body needs all the energy you have to fight the influenza virus. That is one of the reasons why a person with the flu feels tired all the time. Give your child as much rest as possible: let him be a couch potato and save all the energy to fight the virus.
Use a humidifier in your child’s room to help ease nasal congestion. When using it, change the water every day to prevent mold formation. A hot water bath in the tub can also help ease the congestion.
5. Warm compress
If your child is complaining of a severe headache, a warm compress on the head can be helpful. Take a warm hanky or a towel and press it on the child’s forehead to soothe headaches.
The influenza virus can lead to congestion in the lungs, making it difficult for the child to breathe. Gargling with warm water can help in removing phlegm that blocks the wind pipes. It also provides immense relief from a sore throat.
- Take a glass of warm water and mix a spoon of salt in it.
- Let the child gargle with it for at least five minutes, four times a day.
- You can also mix a spoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water and gargle it every day.
- You can also try and gargle with an astringent, herbal tea or with honey and water (do not give honey to children under the age of one).
7. Suck on candy or cough drops
Sucking on candy or cough drops can help ease the child coughing with flu. Sucking on ginger or lemon candy can also provide relief to a sore throat.
Steam can ease congestion in the nose and chest. You can make the child get some steam by running a hot water shower and closing all the doors. The steam will loosen the mucus and make it easier to remove it.
You can also try face steam using a pot of water. Boil some water in a pot and add oregano and rosemary. Close the pot with a lid for five minutes to let the herbs soak in. When you remove the lid, your child may inhale the steam.
[ Read: Stomach Flu In Children ]
9. Nasal irrigation
Know the Neti pot? Nasal irrigation is the process of using a Neti pot to cleanse the nasal passages of the child and prevent a sinus infection. Pour some salt water into one nostril and let it out through the other. Try this procedure with older children, and not with toddlers and younger kids.
10. Eat the right foods
Eating right is as important as taking medications for fighting the flu. In addition to drinking a lot of fluids, eating these foods can help your child fight the virus quickly.
Foods on this list have vitamin C, which gives your immune system the needed boost and also helps in clearing the phlegm. Oranges, leafy vegetables, limes, and grapefruits are examples of foods rich in vitamin C.
- Honey is a natural antimicrobial and antibacterial food that helps in easing throat pain and cough when you have the flu. You can give your child a spoonful of honey mixed with lemon and warm water, twice a day. Or you could give them around 10 grams of honey before bedtime to minimize a nighttime cough.
- Ginger can cure a sore throat and cough. Boil a few pieces of ginger in water and give your child a spoonful, twice or thrice a day.
- Garlic has a compound called allicin that has antimicrobial properties and can help in fighting the flu virus. If your child is not comfortable chewing raw garlic pods, you may add chopped garlic to his soup or broth.
- The Native Americans used the herb and the root of the Echinacea plant for their therapeutic properties. The herb can boost immunity levels of the child to fight flu and its symptoms.
- Probiotics like yogurt have good bacteria, which keep your immune system and gut healthy. A healthy immune system can fight the flu virus better.
- Vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals that provide the energy your body needs to fight the virus. Include all varieties of veggies in the food or better, give your kid a glass of vegetable juice every day.
- Oranges are rich in vitamin C, so a glass of orange juice every day can help fight the disease better.
- Bananas are rich in potassium, and they also help in easing the feeling of nausea that your kid experiences due to the flu.
Complications Of Flu
If you overlook or neglect early signs of flu in children , it can escalate to a chronic condition and lead to diseases such as asthma, pneumonia, congestive heart failure, diabetes, etc.
Give your child the prescribed medication and fluids. As he finds it difficult to breathe, make it less painful through air humidifiers.
With proper medication, the kid must be able to recover in three to five days. In the case of elder kids (8 to 12 years), the disease will persist for one or two weeks.
There is no flu vaccine for infants (0 to 6 months), but they are at a very high risk of getting infected. Follow the prevention measures, and that is the only means to protect children.
How To Prevent Flu In Children?
You may check the symptoms, take him to a doctor, and use home remedies. But why make your child suffer, at all? Take precautions to prevent the infection. Here is what you can do to keep the flu away from your child:
- The best way to protect your child from the flu is to prevent it by getting them yearly shots of the influenza vaccine. Make sure all the children in your house, between the ages six months and five years, are vaccinated. Flu vaccine for children is available in the form of a shot or nasal spray. Check with the doctor before opting one for your child.
- Practice good hygiene habits to prevent the virus from spreading. Encourage your children to wash their hands regularly, especially before eating.
- Prevent your children from sharing containers, cutlery or food with other kids, even if they do not display flu like symptoms.
- Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and encourage others to do the same.
[ Read: Tamiflu Medicine For Kids ]
Influenza Vaccine – Schedule And Side Effects
Vaccinations are important to prevent the flu virus from spreading to your kid, from infected persons. The vaccine is also essential to prevent secondary infections (bacterial infections that occur on top of the respiratory infection) in individuals affected by chronic lung conditions. There are traditional flu vaccines (trivalent vaccines) and seasonal flu vaccines (quadrivalent vaccines).
Seasonal vaccines should be taken every year. Generally, there are two different types of seasonal flu vaccines: injections and nasal spray vaccines. Recently, scientists have come up with an intra-dermal vaccine that can be injected into the skin rather than in the muscle (4).
Influenza vaccines are usually safe. Serious side effects associated with the flu vaccination are very uncommon. However, you may need to gear up for some minor side effects and after effects of the vaccination which include:
- Muscle ache
- Light fever
- Soreness and pain at the site of the infection
- Allergic reactions (in very rare cases)
The influenza virus changes slightly every year, and makes the vaccine from the previous year less effective. A new vaccine is usually prepared every year to deal with the mutations and changes that may have occurred in the entire year and may have caused the strain of virus to become resistant. That is why it is important to get your child the flu shot every year.
Tips To Prevent A Flu Epidemic
The influenza virus can cause an epidemic if you do not take proper care. If you or your children have contracted the virus, you can take the following measures to prevent it from spreading to others in the family and community.
- Vaccinate the uninfected family members.
- Teach your child to cover the mouth when he sneezes or coughs.
- Encourage the child to use a sanitizer or wash hands every time he or she sneezes or coughs.
- Wash hands before and after touching or contacting anyone with a respiratory infection or disease such as asthma.
- Any tissues of cloth used by the child should be disposed of in a trash and not left in the open.
- Limit contact with other people. If you have a school-going child, do not send him to school for a couple of days to prevent the virus from spreading.
- Avoid sharing toys with other children.
The flu isn’t as trivial as you thought, is it? Influenza is seasonal and affects children every year. You may not always be able to protect your child from the virus, but you can certainly help him heal better and faster, with home remedies and treatment options like flu vaccination for children.
What do you do when your child has the flu? Tell us about it here.
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