The flu (influenza) is an all-too-familiar illness for most parents, especially during flu season (November to April). This highly contagious respiratory tract infection can send a child to bed for three to five days with a high fever, headache, congestion, chills, coughing, diarrhea, and vomiting, as well as muscle aches and fatigue. It’s caused primarily by two flu viruses, influenza A and influenza B, which spread quickly in schools and other places where people gather in large groups. Occasionally the flu virus mutates, causing enormous outbreaks. The flu may have more serious consequences for children with chronic health problems like asthma and diabetes.
What Are the Signs That My Child Has the Flu?
The early symptoms aren’t always easy to detect. The first sign may be a change in her behavior, such as acting unusually grumpy or tired. If your child has a high fever (101 to 103 degrees F), a dry cough, chills, fatigue, sore muscles, and a headache, she probably has the flu. The group of symptoms, of course, differs slightly from child to child. Children typically recover from the symptoms in about three to four days (although they may continue to feel achy for up to two weeks), and the body’s immune system will build natural defenses against the virus.
How Did My Child Get the Flu?
Children usually become infected through contact with someone who has the flu or by touching infected items such as plastic toys and utensils. People can pass on the flu virus by touching, kissing, and coughing, and the hardy virus can live for up to two hours on the surface of objects like toys or bedposts. Because it’s so easily transmitted in densely populated areas such as schools, the flu has the highest incidence among children ages 5 to 14. During flu season, anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of the entire US population may be infected with a flu virus of one type or another.
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