A Guide for Parents - Seasonal Flu Information

Take care of yourself and your children this flu season.

About the Flu

What is the flu?

The flu (influenza) is an infection of the nose, throat and lungs caused by influenza viruses. Flu viruses cause illness, hospital stays and deaths in the United States each year. There are many different flu viruses and sometimes a new flu virus emerges to make people sick.

The danger of flu to children

Children commonly need medical care because of influenza, especially before they turn 5 years old. Severe influenza complications are most common in children younger than 2 years old and children with chronic health problems like asthma and diabetes are at especially high risk of developing serious flu complications.


How does flu spread?

Both H1N1 flu and seasonal flu are thought to spread mostly from person to person through the coughs and sneezes of people who are sick with influenza. People also may get sick by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.
What are the symptoms of the flu?

Symptoms of seasonal flu and H1N1 flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting and diarrhea.


How long can a sick person spread the flu to others?

People infected with seasonal and H1N1 flu shed virus and may be able to infect others from 1 day before getting sick to 5 to 7 days after. This can be longer in some people, especially children and people with weakened immune systems and in people infected with H1N1 flu.


How can I protect my child against flu?

Get a seasonal flu vaccine for yourself and your child to protect against seasonal flu viruses.Take everyday steps to prevent the spread of all flu viruses. This includes:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. If soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective. *
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Teach your child to take these actions too.
  • Try to keep your child from having close contact (about 6 feet) with sick people, including anyone in the household who is sick.
  • Keep surfaces like bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, kitchen counters and toys for children clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant according to directions on the product label.
  • Throw away tissues and other disposable items used by sick persons in your household in the trash.


What should I use for hand cleaning?

Washing hands with soap and running water (for as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice) will help protect against many germs. When soap and running water are not available, wipes or gels with alcohol in them can be used (the gels should be rubbed into your hands until they are dry).*

Is there medicine to treat the flu?

Although most people do not need antiviral drugs to treat the flu, there are medications available. The priority use for these drugs is to treat people who are seriously ill or who have a medical condition that puts them at high risk of serious flu complications. These medications need to be prescribed by a doctor and they work best when started during the first two days of illness.


Seasonal influenza vaccination recommendations

The single best way to protect against seasonal flu and its potential severe complications in children is to get a seasonal influenza vaccine each year.

Vaccine can be given with a flu shot or with a nasal spray. Every child who is eligible, not just those children in high-risk groups, should be vaccinated. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against three influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. The 2010-2011 flu vaccine will protect against 2009 H1N1, H3N2 and an influenza B virus.

The Centers for Disease Control recommend that everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine. CDC also recommends that people in contact with children get a seasonal flu vaccine in order to protect the child (or children) in their lives from the flu.


At what age should my child get a seasonal flu vaccine? And is there a separate vaccine for the H1N1 virus this year?

All children older than six month of age should get the 2010-2011 seasonal flu vaccine—even if he or she received the H1N1 (pandemic) flu vaccine last year.  Fortunately, this year’s vaccine provides protection against the 2009 pandemic strain (A/H1N1) plus two other strains – influenza A/H3N2 and influenza B.
All children 6 months through 8 years of age should receive 2 doses of 2010-11 flu vaccine unless:

  •  They have received at least 1 dose of 2009 H1N1 vaccine last flu season, and
  • At least 1 dose of seasonal vaccine prior to the 2009-2010 flu season or 2 doses of seasonal flu vaccine last flu season

Your primary care provider can help determine what your child should receive. In addition, there may be the option to receive the intranasal flu vaccine instead of the shot.

Remember: The vaccine will not prevent respiratory illness caused by other viruses, and it may take up to two weeks for protection to develop after vaccination.

My baby is only two months old. Does he need the flu vaccine?

Babies younger than six months are too young to receive the vaccine for influenza. One way to decrease their chances of geting the flu is to make sure their close contacts, family members and caregivers get the vaccine. OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital is now in its third season of offering free flu shots to the parents and other adult close contacts of established OHSU Doernbecher patients. . This “Free Vaccine for Parents Cocooning Project” is intended to protect OHSU Doernbecher’s youngest and most vulnerable patients by “cocooning” infants and other high-risk children, insulating them from infection by ensuring everyone they come into contact with has been immunized. This campaign is organized by OHSU Doernbecher pediatric residents, nurses, students, pharmacists and physicians and is funded by the OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital Foundation.

If your child is sick

What can I do if my child gets sick?

If your child is 5 years or older and otherwise healthy and gets flu-like symptoms, including a fever and/or cough, consult your doctor as needed and make sure your child gets plenty of rest and drinks enough fluids.

If your child is younger than 5, or of any age and has a medical condition like asthma, diabetes, or a neurologic problem and develops flu-like symptoms, including a fever and/or cough, call your doctor or get medical attention. This is because younger children and children who have chronic medical conditions (like asthma or diabetes) may be at higher risk of serious complications from influenza infection, including H1N1. Talk to your doctor early if you are worried about your child’s illness.

What if my child seems very sick?

Even children who have always been healthy before or had the flu before can get a severe case of flu. Call or take your child to a doctor right away if your child of any age has:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish or gray skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Has other conditions (like heart or lung disease, diabetes, or asthma) and develops flu-like symptoms, including a fever and/or cough


Can my child go to school, day care or camp if he or she is sick?

No. Your child should stay home to rest and to avoid giving the flu to other people.

When can my child go back to school after having the flu?

Keep your child home from school, day care or camp for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone. (Their fever should be gone without them having taken a fever-reducing medicine.) A fever is defined as 100°F or 37.8°C.

For more information, visit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
www.flu.gov or ask your primary care provider.

Information from the Department of Health and
Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

About the Expert

Dr. Guzman-Cottrill is a pediatric infectious disease physician and the Pediatric Medical Director of OHSU’s Department of Infection Prevention and Control.  She sees patients at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.