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What to do if your child catches the flu

HomeNews and Events > What to do if your child catches the flu
James Stallworth, MD

James Stallworth, MD
Generalist Pediatrician
University of South Carolina School of Medicine
Palmetto Health Children's Hospital

Some people liken the flu to a bad cold, but it’s more serious and can be very dangerous to children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20,000 children younger than five years old are hospitalized each year from flu complications such as pneumonia.

What exactly is the flu?

Flu is an infection of the nose, throat and lungs caused by a type of influenza virus. It is often mistaken at first for a bad cold or a stomach bug. Generally it hits fast, and children are going to feel at their worst during the first two or three days of sickness. In contrast, children with colds usually get ill more slowly and don’t have fever over 101℉ or 102℉.

What are the symptoms?

  • A high-grade fever up to 104℉
  • Chills and shakes with the fever
  • Headache and body aches, especially the leg calves
  • A dry, hacking cough
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting and stomach pain

How do I protect my child against the flu?

Have your child vaccinated if he or she is over six months old. Flu vaccines are updated every year based on the viruses that are predicted to be most active. The safety record for flu vaccines is excellent, but if you have concerns, be sure to consult with your doctor.

Keep away from people with cold or flu-like symptoms. If a member of the household is sick, keep that person in a separate room, if possible.

When sneezing or coughing, be sure to cover the mouth and nose with a tissue or sneeze into your elbow.

Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water frequently, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you don’t have access to a washroom.

Try not to touch your mouth, nose and eyes.

Regularly clean hard surfaces with household disinfectant.

What do I do if my child catches the flu?

  • If you see a doctor within two days of illness, an antiviral medication could shorten the duration of the infection.
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest. Encourage your child to stay in bed or on a comfortable couch by giving him or her plenty of books, games or videos to enjoy.
  • Fever can lead to dehydration, so be sure your child gets plenty of fluids.

Children younger than five years of age as well as children with chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and disorders of the brain and nervous system—may be at high risk for flu complications, and you should see a doctor right away if they develop flu-like symptoms.

If you have questions, contact your physician or call Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital at 803-296-KIDS (5437).

Sources of Information:,,

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