If you’ve ever had influenza (commonly referred to as the flu), you know the feeling: like the worst cold ever. A lot of the symptoms can be similar, but flu symptoms come on quickly and take you down hard. We’ve also got influenza A or influenza B to be confused about and wondering how effective the flu shot will be for flu symptoms this year.
With the exception of that last bullet point, flu symptoms in kids mirror flu symptoms in adults. The flu is contagious 1 day before symptoms appear and up to 5-7 days after signs of the flu. The most contagious period is the first 3-4 days of having flu symptoms.
Influenza A and influenza B are similar when it comes to symptoms and how it spreads (coughing and sneezing on our poor friends). Influenza A, however, can also be carried and spread by animals (B cannot) so it tends to be worse and spread faster. The flu vaccine protects against both!
Flu season typically begins in October or November, peaking December through February, but it varies year to year and by location. Flu season ends as late as May.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends getting your flu vaccine by the end of October, with the goal of getting it before the flu really starts circulating in your area. But don’t worry if you’ve missed the boat! You can get your flu shot all the way through January and still have it be effective for the current season. It takes 2 weeks for the antibodies to build and start protecting us. Flu vaccines are offered by employers, pharmacies, schools, clinics, urgent cares, etc.
Soreness or redness near the injection site
These side effects are usually pretty mild and will go away on their own within a couple of days.
The flu vaccine is our best defense against influenza. The vaccine is made each year to target the 3-4 influenza viruses we are most likely to encounter. Depending on the year, it is 70-90% effective in preventing influenza and for those who still get the flu, the severity of symptoms will be lessened for those who received their vaccine. Furthermore, it is not only protecting us but those around us who may be considered high-risk.
Like a cold, most of us can battle this out at home and don’t need to see a doctor. And I know what you’re thinking – how long does the flu last?! Be prepared for our kiddos to feel very sick for at least 3 days and improve from there. It might take a couple of weeks before they return to their rambunctious selves, but the worst of it should be over by that 3 day mark. You need some tools in the toolbox to help them get more comfortable in the meantime though!
Not necessarily. In low-risk (healthy) children, the flu will run its course – no special tests or medications are needed. With that said, there are certain groups and situations for which treating with an antiviral medication may be indicated. For example, treatment is generally recommended within the first 48 hours of illness for children under age 2 yrs and sometimes under 5 years of age. Treatment may also be indicated early in the course of the illness if your kiddo happens to be high-risk (underlying conditions related to the heart, immunosuppressed, diabetes, asthma, etc). The medication reduces symptoms but does not eliminate them. Check out www.cdc.gov for the most up to date information regarding influenza treatment guidelines.
Great question! Does it seem like something else is going on? Severe ear pain, throat pain, sinus pain? Call the doc and see if your kiddo has an additional infection. Follow your gut anytime you think the ‘toughing it out at home’ method doesn’t seem appropriate. Also, if the cough and/or flu symptoms carry on past 3 weeks, call your doctor. Fever >104℉ degrees or longer than 3 days? Yep, call the doc. (Except our tiny babes under 3 months old - any fever of 100.4℉ or higher warrants a call to the doctor.) If your kiddo ever has trouble breathing (stridor, wheezing, rapid breathing, blue or gray lips), altered mental status, or decreased responsiveness – head to the ER.
Just like all other illnesses, I will always add: WASH YOUR HANDS! Truly our biggest tool against spreading these viruses to everyone we love. Our babes can head back to school when they feel better and when your Kinsa thermometer shows their fever is gone for 24 hours.
I know how frustrating it is when the world is forced to halt for viruses like this. Enjoy the forced downtime and the extra snuggling; work can wait. Things will be back to normal before you know it!
Blake Wageman, RN, BSN has over 14 years of nursing under her belt, primarily focused on NICU babies and, just as importantly, their worried parents.