Flu In Children: Myths And Facts About Childhood Influenza

Does your child have a cold or a flu? If you are confused about the symptoms, don't worry. Leading paediatrician Dr Rajath Athreya tells you how to distinguish between the two.

By Monali Bordoloi  • 8 min read

Flu In Children: Myths And Facts About Childhood Influenza
Teach your child to sneeze in a tissue to prevent spread of flu

As the weather changes and there are temperature variations, many children fall sick at the start of the monsoon. This is the time when the little ones are susceptible to common cold and influenza.

Children below five years age are the most vulnerable for both a cold and a flu attack. Parents may often confuse the two, as the symptoms for both are similar. If your child has a persistent sneeze or is running fever, how would you know if she has a cold or is affected by the influenza bug? What would you do if she develops high fever? What is the treatment for influenza? To get answers to all these questions and more, we spoke to Dr Rajath Athreya, a leading paediatrician and neonatologist from Bengaluru.

Is it cold or flu?

Influenza or flu, as it is commonly known, is a highly contagious, viral infection involving the respiratory passage. The common cold is a milder infection of the upper respiratory tract, also caused by a virus. If your child has a flu attack, just like in common cold, he would have sore or scratchy throat and fever. Often children with flu may have headaches, body ache and ear pain. Most parents find it difficult to distinguish between a common cold and a flu, as both have similar symptoms. So, how can you identify the illness?

According to Dr Rajath Athreya, here are some signs to look out for:

  • In a flu attack, there is a sudden onset of high fever. In the case of a common cold, your child will have a runny nose first and then in a day or two, he may develop a mild fever.
  • When your child has a common cold, he may recover in one or two days; but in a flu attack, your child make take around one to two weeks to get better.
  • If your child is attacked by the influenza virus, he may become weak and tired. He will be forced to stay in bed.
  • Children with flu tend to be less active and may complain about body and stomach aches.

Dr Rajath says, “Flu attack can be quite serious for children with chronic medical conditions like asthma, respiratory diseases and heart ailments. They need to be under medical supervision to get well.” If your child is less than two years and is under treatment for an ailment, a flu attack can make her seriously ill. Immediately seek your doctor's advice in such a situation.

Prevention is the best treatment

“There is no specific treatment for influenza. Make sure that your child is taking enough fluids and getting rest. You can treat the high fever with paracetamol and brufen. She might need 5–7 days to recover fully. Some children may take longer than that. Even after recovery, your child might feel tired and drained for a few days. Children take time to get back to their regular activities. We prescribe anti-viral medicines only when there is an outbreak and it needs to be contained.”

Here are some myths and facts you need to know about: 

Myth #1: Many children lose their appetite when they have flu. Parents believe the child should be given fluids and bland food. 

Fact: Dr Rajath says, “Most parents of children with flu ask the doctor about the foods for the sick child. There are absolutely no restrictions on food. Make sure he is getting enough fluid.”

Myth #2: Taking vitamin C supplement will make your flu and cold symptoms go away. 

Fact: Dr Rajath says, “There are not sufficient studies to prove that. However, taking vitamin C won’t hurt.”

Myth #3: After a flu attack, your child can join school within 3-4 days.  

Fact: Dr Rajath says, “Generally, your virus is most infectious in the first five days of the disease. So, he can resume school after 5–7 days of a flu attack. However, some children take a longer time to recover. In case of common cold, your child may resume school sooner.”

Myth #4: You cannot prevent influenza with a vaccine.    

Dr Rajath says, “There are vaccines available for flu. However, as these viruses change themselves every year, children below five should get a flu shot every year. Right now, we encourage children below two years to get vaccinated first at six months and then again in the second year.”   

To prevent the disease, you need to take care of the hygiene factor. Give your child these tips on hygiene:

  • Teaching your child about hand washing will go a long way in preventing the disease. Always make sure that your child washes her hands before eating and drinking.
  • One of the most common ways of spreading the disease is through sneezing. Teach your child to sneeze into a tissue and discard it after that. If she sneezes into her hand, she needs to wash her hands with soap before touching any surface.
  • Your child must wash hands after coming back from the school or the playground.
  • Do not expose your child to a person who already has flu.
  • Encourage your child to use a hand sanitiser, when hand-washing is not possible.
  • Wipe the surfaces commonly touched by your child, like his study table, door knobs, cupboards. with a disinfectant.
  • When there are too many cases of flu being reported, avoid going to crowded places with your child.

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