What Is the Flu?
The flu is an infection of the respiratory tract (nose, throat, and lungs). It’s caused by a virus that spreads easily from person to person. Flu viruses usually cause the most illness during the colder months of the year. In the United States, flu season is from October to May.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of the Flu?
When people have the flu, they usually feel worse than they do with a cold. Most people start to feel sick about 2 days after they come in contact with the flu virus. They might have:
- A fever that comes on suddenly
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
- A cough
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
- Ear pain
Babies with the flu also may suddenly seem fussy or just “not look right.”
What Causes the Flu?
The flu gets its name from the virus that causes it — the influenza virus. It spreads when people cough or sneeze out droplets that are infected with the virus and other people breathe them in. The droplets also can land on things like doorknobs or shopping carts, infecting people who touch them.
How Is the Flu Treated?
Most kids with flu get better at home. Make sure your child:
- drinks lots of liquids to prevent dehydration
- gets plenty of sleep and takes it easy
- takes acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve fever and aches. Don’t give kids or teens aspirin because of its link to Reye syndrome.
- wears layers that are easy to remove. Kids might feel cold one minute and hot the next.
Children with the flu should stay home from school and childcare until they feel better. They should go back only when they haven’t had a fever for at least 24 hours without using a fever-reducing medicine. Some kids need to stay home longer. Ask the doctor what’s best for your child.
Doctors may prescribe antiviral medicine for a very ill child or kids are at risk for more serious symptoms. The medicine can shorten the flu by 1–2 days. It works best if children start taking it within 48 hours of the start of the flu. If a doctor prescribes antiviral medicine for your child, ask about any possible side effects. Doctors won’t prescribe antibiotics for the flu. Antibiotics work only against bacteria, not viruses.