Dr. Lara’s guide for the flu

En Español

What is the flu?

The flu is a highly contagious illness caused by a group of respiratory viruses called influenza.

When is flu season?

Flu season usually start in the fall and ends in the spring, anytime from October to May.  The timing, severity, and length of each flu season varies from year to year. Epidemics usually occur during the winter months.

Who is typically more affected during an outbreak?

Flu often affects preschool and school-aged children the most.

How is the flu spread?

The flu spreads easily from person to person through air droplets that form when someone who is sick talks, coughs or sneezes. These droplets can then land in someone’s mouth, nose or eyes. After someone coughs, the virus droplets can reach people about 3 to 6 feet away.

It can also spread when someone touches a surface that has been contaminated with flu droplets and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth. For example, this can occur after touching a doorknob or a toy.

How long does it take to get sick after being exposed to the flu?

It takes about 1 to 4 days to get the flu symptoms. The average time is 2 days.

When can the flu be spread?

During the incubation period, when someone is infected, but not feeling sick yet.

During the symptomatic stage, especially when fever is present.

During the recovery period, when still feeling under the weather.

When is the flu most contagious?

The first three to four days after their illness starts are considered the most contagious.  However, people can spread the flu from about 1 day before getting the symptoms to about 7 days after getting sick. Young children and people with weakened immune systems might be contagious for longer than 7 days.

What are the flu symptoms?

The flu looks a lot like a common cold, but more severe.

Symptoms include sudden onset of fever, chills, stuffy/runny nose, cough, sore throat, tiredness, headache, and body aches. Some children may have nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

How long does it take to get over the flu?

The fever usually lasts around 5 days. Most healthy kids get over the flu in about one week.

Some children can have complications during or after having the flu.  Some common complications include ear infection, sinusitis and pneumonia. If the child’s develops ear pain, sinus tenderness, wet cough, or the fever returns once it was gone, it could be a sign of one of these problems.

Other respiratory complication includes asthma exacerbation, croup, and bronchiolitis.

How long should children be excluded from daycare and school when sick with the flu?

Children should stay home for 5 to7 days.

Your child should be fever free, without the use of fever reducing medicine, for a minimum of 24 hours before returning to school, sports, and extracurricular activities.

When to take your child to the pediatrician?

Call your pediatrician within the first 24 hours of flu symptoms.

Certain children are at increased risk of severe flu illness:

  • Children younger than age 5 years, especially those younger than age 2.
  • Children with underlying medical conditions like asthma, cancer, immune deficiency, diabetes, sickle cell, neurological conditions, and congenital heart disease.
  • Children who have not been immunized against the flu.

How is the flu treated?

Children who are sick with the flu are at risk for dehydration because they are running fever and possibly drinking less than usual. It is important to encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids and rest as much as possible while sick with the flu.

The use of saline nose drops/sprays and a humidifier can help your child’s stuffy nose. Over the counter cough and cold medications can cause serious side effects for children younger than 4 years old, so ask your pediatrician before administering those

The use of acetaminophen or ibuprofen is acceptable to control the fever and body aches. Please remember that ibuprofen should not be used for children younger than 6-month-old, and for those who are experiencing continuous vomiting.

Never ever administer aspirin if you know or suspect your child has the flu. Giving your child aspirin while having the flu increases his or her risk of developing Reye Syndrome, a serious, rapidly progressing encephalopathy.

The pediatrician will decide if it is necessary to prescribe antiviral medications. In general, these medications work best when started within 48 hours after the onset of symptoms. However, for some children, especially those at increased risk for severe disease and complications, the medication can be started later than 48 hours.

The flu is a virus, hence the use of antibiotics is not indicated unless there is a secondary bacterial infection present.

10 tips to avoid getting and spreading the flu?

1-Flu shot

Get yourself and your children vaccinated against the flu yearly. Children under 6 months of age cannot be vaccinated, but by having everyone in the household immunized, they are indirectly being protected.

Pregnant ladies can receive the flu shot at any time during their pregnancy.

Breastfeeding can provide infants protection against the flu.

If mom didn’t receive the flu shot during pregnancy, it is advised to get it in the postpartum period.

2-Teach your children adequate cough and sneeze behaviors

Children should cough into their elbows, not into their hands. If your child coughs into his hands, it is recommended to wash their hands right away. If your child coughs into a tissue, it should be thrown away immediately, and his/her hands should be washed. Children should not touch or pick up used tissues.

3- Toddlers and young children frequently use their hands to wipe their noses or rub their eyes and then touch other children, toys and common surfaces. This allows germs to spread easily. Encourage your children from a young age to avoid this behavior and disinfect toys before using.

4-Encourage frequent hand washing with water and soap, especially before prepping food or eating. If water and soap are not available use alcohol- based hand sanitizer.

5-Everyone should avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

6-Clean and sanitize common household surfaces like the kitchen counter, light switches, and doorknobs frequently.

7-Do not share utensils or glasses/cups.

8-Avoid close contact with others if you are sick or if they are sick.

9-Keep your child home while sick.

10-Getting plenty of sleep, being physically active, drinking lots of fluids, and eating a nutritious, balanced diet can help you and your children stay healthy during flu season.