Influenza, often known as the flu, is an infectious respiratory ailment caused by influenza viruses that affect the nose, throat and lungs. It impacts millions of children globally, with different levels of severity. According to a survey by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, of the 1,832 patients with confirmed influenza admitted to sentinel hospitals, 55.8% were children aged younger than 16 years. Are you thinking about when to worry about the flu in a child? Let’s learn about the impact of influenza on children and how implementing effective measures to deal with it is important for protecting their health and wellness. 

What is The Flu in Children?

In children, the flu manifests as a highly transmissible respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses. It usually affects the respiratory tract, (nose, throat and lungs) but sometimes it can also involve other parts of the body. It is one of the most common viral diseases of the winter season which causes fever, cough, body ache and other symptoms. Children are more prone to getting influenza due to their immature immune systems and regular exposure to germs in school and daycare settings. The flu can rapidly transmit among children through close contact, sneezing, and coughing. While most cases settle on their own with rest and care, influenza can lead to serious complications such as dehydration, pneumonia, and worsening of underlying chronic conditions.

What Causes The Flu In a Child?

In children, the flu is caused by influenza viruses. These viruses belong to three main types: influenza A, B, and C. According to a report by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, influenza cases have been highest in people aged 5–9 years, followed by those aged 0–4 years, and 10–14 years.

  • Influenza A– This type of influenza virus can cause widespread illness almost every winter. They can cause a variety of symptoms ranging from mild respiratory ailments to serious complications such as pneumonia. Children carrying the influenza A infection may have a runny nose, sore throat, fatigue, fever, and gastrointestinal symptoms. Influenza A viruses can cause seasonal flu outbreaks and occasional pandemics.
  • Influenza B– Influenza B viruses are liable for seasonal flu epidemics. While they usually cause less severe illness than influenza A viruses, children infected with influenza B viruses can still experience cough, sore throat, and fever.
  • Influenza C– Influenza C viruses are infrequent and generally cause milder respiratory illness in children than types A and B. Symptoms of influenza C may include cough, fever, and mild respiratory blockage. These viruses do not cause seasonal flu epidemics.

Children can be infected with the flu virus through contact with respiratory droplets from infected individuals when they talk, cough, or sneeze. Additionally, coming in contact with virus-contaminated surfaces and touching their mouth, eyes, or nose can also result in infection. Children are more vulnerable to contracting and spreading the flu virus due to their developing immune systems and close connections in schools and daycare.

What are the Symptoms of the Flu in a Child?

Children infected with the flu will typically experience the following symptoms:

  • Sudden onset of fever
  • Body ache
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Cough
  • Sore Throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Low energy
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Ear ache
  • Diarrhoea
  • Chills

When To Worry About Flu In Children?

Parents should be alert and seek medical advice if their child observes any of the following alarming symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing or breathlessness
  • Rapid or weak breathing
  • Severe vomiting
  • Bluish tint on the skin
  • High or prolonged fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Symptoms of dehydration such as decreased urge to urinate, a dry mouth, or no tears while crying
  • Non-responsiveness
  • Flu symptoms get better but return with severe cough and fever

When To Consult a Doctor?

If your child is exhibiting severe signs or complications associated with the flu, such as breathlessness, dehydration, excessive vomiting, or high fever, it is imperative to consult a doctor. Additionally, parents should seek advice from a healthcare provider if their child has underlying medical ailments such as a weak immune system, asthmadiabetes, or a heart condition as they could be more susceptible to greater risk of complications from the flu. Furthermore, if parents are unsure about their child’s condition, it is best to consult a healthcare professional for support and guidance. Prompt medical assistance can help prevent serious complications and ensure that the child receives proper treatment as soon as possible.

Book a Telehealth appointment with a registered doctor within 15 minutes to discuss your child’s condition from the comfort of your home. 

What Can Help Prevent The Flu?

To protect children from influenza informally referred to as flu, some of the prevention measures include:

  1. Regular vaccination: The most effective way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year. A yearly flu vaccine for all children starting at 6 months is recommended. It is essential to vaccinate children against influenza for several reasons. First of all, it aids in the prevention of extreme sickness, hospital stays, and possible side effects including pneumonia. Furthermore, it lessens the virus’s ability to spread throughout communities as it contributes to herd immunity (that is, the more people in a population are vaccinated, the more protected are the vulnerable people in our community who are unable to get vaccinated, such as very young babies or people who have had a severe allergic reaction to the flu vaccine). Otherwise, the flu vaccine is safe and effective in children and endorsed by the WHO and CDC.
  2. Keeping hands clean: Remind your children to wash their hands using clean water and soap. Ensure they rinse their hand at least 20 seconds before eating, after using the bathroom, and after coughing or sneezing. Children can use hand sanitisers as an alternative if water and soap are not available.
  3. Avoid contact with face: To prevent the spread of germs, urge children to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or their elbow whenever they cough or sneeze.  Avoid touching the face, particularly the eyes, nose, and mouth as this introduces the virus into the body.
  4. Avoid close touch with sick individuals: Train children to avoid being in close contact with any individual with flu-like symptoms. If a family member has flu-like symptoms, try to keep that person away from other people.
  5. Keep surfaces clean: To reduce the risk of the illness spreading, keep surfaces and objects that are often touched, cleaned, and disinfected, such as doorknobs, toys, and electronic gadgets.
  6. Promote a healthy lifestyle: Make sure children get enough sleep balanced out by a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and are involved in regular physical activity. Good habits reduce the chances of getting the illness and can boost their immune systems.
  7. Stay at home when ill: If your child has influenza-like symptoms, do not send them to school or daycare until the fever has subsided for at least 24 hours without the use of medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to control the fever.
  8. Take antivirals into account: Taking antiviral drugs to help avoid or cure the flu might be recommended in some cases, such as if the child has underlying medical conditions such as heart and lung disease, during a flu epidemic or if the child is prone to serious complications from the flu. However, it must be taken within the first 48hrs of onset of symptoms to be effective.

Can a Telehealth Doctor Help With Flu?

Yes, telehealth doctors offer diagnoses for displayed symptoms, recommend appropriate medicines ranging from antivirals to OTCs (over the counter), and also provide advice on preventative measures. When dealing with mild diseases like the flu or in situations when in-person visits are not possible or practical, telehealth services may be extremely helpful for parents. It is effective to follow the advice of medical professionals and get help right away if your child is experiencing severe symptoms.

Influenza poses a major health hazard in children with a possibility of severe infections and complications. By understanding the effects of influenza and deploying efficient strategies, we can alleviate the burden of this contiguous disease and secure the health and welfare of our youngest population.

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This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. For emergencies please immediately contact 000.