Sick Days

Flu (Influenza)

October to April, depending on where you live, is flu season. Flu is especially dangerous for newborns, but any child who catches it should be watched closely. If the infection works its way down into the lower respiratory tract, it can lead to bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

Symptoms

Flu is like a cold "with a kick," says C. Michael Bowman, MD, director of the division of pediatric pulmonology, allergy, and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina. But what sets flu apart is its sudden onset, high fever (as high as 105 degrees F.), diarrhea, and general achiness. Babies with the flu will be extremely irritable and usually don't eat.

Prevention

The flu vaccine. It becomes available in early October, but since flu season usually doesn't peak till January or February, December is still not too late to get one. It should be given to children starting at 6 months (plus a booster four to six weeks later) and then every flu season after that until age 5. Your child may still get the flu, but symptoms are likely to be milder if she's had her flu shot. The FDA also recently approved the nasal-spray vaccine FluMist for healthy children as young as age 2. If you have an infant who's younger than 6 months, you and any other caregivers should get immunized to lessen the chance of infecting your baby. (Note: You shouldn't receive FluMist if you're pregnant or have a depressed immune system or a chronic heart or lung condition.)

Treatment

Give the same type of care you would if your child had a cold. Also ask your pediatrician about Tamiflu, which can be used starting at age 1 and can shave a day or two off a flu infection if it's given within the first 48 hours.

Red Alert

Call your doctor if high fever persists for more than a few days, or if your child has trouble breathing, has chest pain, or seems to get better but then relapses. These symptoms can signal another infection.

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