Flu Symptoms in Babies and When to Call the Doctor

Is it a cold or the flu? Knowing the most common baby flu symptoms, along with the most common baby cold symptoms, will make it easy to tell the difference between the two this fall and winter. Consider this your cheatsheet.

Learn how to tell if Baby's sniffles are a cold or the flu and when to call the doctor.

Flu Symptoms in Babies

What it looks like: A bad cold with a high fever (and occasionally diarrhea or vomiting) that comes on quite suddenly. Babies with flu are also fussy because they feel so awful, says pediatrician Luke Beno, M.D., with Kaiser Permanente in Atlanta.

What's happening: You should take this respiratory infection seriously. Among children, babies younger than 6 months old have the highest risk of being hospitalized and also have the highest rates of flu mortality. That's largely because their immune system hasn't fully developed and they're too young to have a flu shot.

However, if you were vaccinated when you were pregnant, your antibodies cut your baby's flu risk by 41 percent during those first six months, according to research. After that, she'll be old enough for her own shot. Get the rest of the family and caregivers immunized, too, advises Orlando pediatrician Hernando Cardona, M.D., of Windermere Pediatrics. "The only way Baby is going to contract flu is if someone brings it home," he says.

When to call the doctor: If it's flu season (November to April), and your little one spikes a fever, see your doc that same day. A rapid test of nasal secretions can confirm that she has influenza, and your M.D. may administer an antiviral, such as Tamiflu, which can speed recovery by a day or so. Tamiflu is generally not recommended for children younger than 12 months, "but when a baby is really sick, we'll give it, because the younger they are, the higher their risk for complications," Dr. Cardona says.

One of the most common is pneumonia, which develops when a flu virus migrates into the lungs from the nose and throat, or when a bacterial infection has cropped up as well. Viral pneumonia is treated with comfort measures; bacterial pneumonia requires antibiotics.

RELATED: Flu Vaccine for Babies

Common Cold Symptoms in Babies

It looks like: Cough, stuffed-up or runny nose, occasional mild fever

What's happening: A cold is a minor infection in the nose and throat caused by any one of more than 200 viruses that your tot inhales or picks up from the things she touches. Stock up on tissues and saline nose drops. While your infant's immune system is maturing, she'll get about seven colds a year.

"The first time was scary," says Boston mom Miriam Katz, recalling her daughter Dalia's bout at 5 months. "She was so congested that she couldn't breathe through her nose, and she didn't want to nurse. Taking her into our steam shower and using eucalyptus oil in the humidifier helped, and she got better fast."

Call the doctor: A cold isn't serious, but when your baby is younger than 3 months, a cold can quickly turn into croup or pneumonia. Monitor symptoms, and call the M.D. if they worsen or last more than three days. If your child is younger than 4 weeks and has a fever (100.4?F and up when taken rectally), take her to the ER. At this age, babies can get very sick very fast because they're not fully immunized, explains Stephen Turner, M.D., chief of pediatrics of SUNY Downstate at Long Island College Hospital, in Brooklyn. A spinal tap may be necessary to ensure that your baby doesn't have a bacterial infection such as meningitis.

But if your child has a high fever (101?F and above), ear pain, eye redness, or discharge, or if she's not eating normally or isn't wetting as many diapers, it's more than a cold. You should dial your doc right away.

RELATEDWhat to Do When Your Baby Has a Cold

Is It Something Else?

The fall and winter months are Sicky City. From Whooping Cough to Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), learn about the most common illnesses in babies that strike during flu season, and how to treat them:

RELATEDHow to Decode Your Baby's Cough



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