Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness that infects the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and serious outcomes can sometimes result in hospitalization or even death. On average, about 8% of the U.S. population gets sick with the flu each year.
Flu is caused by influenza viruses Type A and B, which lead to seasonal flu epidemics. Most times, flu virus is spread from person to person when infected people cough, sneeze or talk and tiny droplets land in the nose or mouth of someone nearby. It may be spread before a person knows they are sick, while they are sick, and 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. When exposed, it may take up to 4 days before you are infected.
Some warning signs of the flu in children include:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish lips or face
- Ribs pulling in with each breath
- Chest pain
- Severe muscle pain (child refuses to walk)
- Dehydration (no urine for 8 hours, dry mouth, no tears when crying)
- Not alert or interacting when awake
- Fever above 104°F
- In children less than 12 weeks, any fever
- Fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen
- Worsening of chronic medical condition
If not treated, the flu infection may lead to complications, such as:
- Worsening of long-term medical problems like heart disease or asthma
- Brain dysfunction such as encephalopathy
- Sinus problems and ear infections
- In rare cases, flu complications can lead to death.
Children younger than five (especially younger than two), as well as children with chronic health problems, are at greater risk for flu complications. Chronic health problems may include:
- Asthma (and other chronic lung diseases like cystic fibrosis)
- Neurologic conditions (such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, stroke, intellectual disability, muscular dystrophy)
- Heart disease
- Disorders of the blood, endocrine system, kidney, liver or metabolism
- BMI at or above the 95th percentile
All children 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each year. A yearly flu vaccine is the first and most important step in preventing influenza and its potentially serious consequences. It can also reduce the spread of flu to others.
Children who are getting the flu vaccine for the first time still need two doses of the vaccine. For other children, it is best to get the flu vaccine before the end of October, which will ideally protect them when the infection begins to spread in the community.
In addition to getting a flu shot, your child and their caregivers should take other preventive measures to reduce the risk of infection, including:
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
- Stay home when you are sick
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Wash your hands frequently
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Practice other healthy habits
- Flu vaccine
Northeast Health District’s flu clinics are open to any individual over 6 months of age. Based on your insurance, you may be able to receive the flu vaccine FREE.
If you do not have insurance, the cost of a flu shot is typically $25. Based on eligibility, you may be able to receive reduced rates for flu vaccines.