Seasonal flu in children: causes, symptoms and prevention

As winter arrives with its pleasant mornings and shorter days, treating the seasonal flu is another big part of most households’ winter plans! Seasonal flu is a fairly common but extremely tiring illness that occurs at the beginning of winter. A temperature drop of even a few degrees at night, and you could have a seriously ill child in the morning, with a bad cough and runny nose. Tell us all about seasonal flu in children.

How is seasonal flu different from a cold?

Both have stuffy noses and coughs, but seasonal flu and colds are actually very different. Dr. Neeraj Gupta, allergist, pediatric intensivist and sleep specialist, says the cause of both varies. “The flu is caused by the influenza virus, while the common cold can be caused by other viral infections like RSV, rhinoviruses, enteroviruses or adenoviruses.”

Additionally, colds may not be that serious and children may just have symptoms such as cough, sore throat, sneezing, or stuffy nose. A cold can strike anytime and anywhere! “On the other hand, seasonal flu is more common in changing weather conditions, with high fever, severe body aches, headaches and fatigue. Fever may be accompanied by chills. There may be coughing and difficulty breathing. Nasal symptoms may be present and mild in intensity,” says Dr. Gupta.

Recovery time also varies. Flu symptoms can last more than two weeks, but a cold should set in within five to seven days at most. The flu may require medical attention, but most colds go away on their own.

When is seasonal flu in children dangerous?

How serious can a cough, runny nose and body aches be? Well, there are some telltale signs you should look out for! “These may include high fever, incessant coughing, rapid or shallow breathing, chest tightness, bluish discoloration of the lips or arms, cold extremities, severe headache , decreased appetite, lethargy or inactivity or increased irritability, a child who does not feel well or does not look well.” said Dr. Gupta. If your child has these symptoms, you should take them to a pediatric facility.

Another point to keep in mind is that if the child has other chronic illnesses like asthma, immunodeficiency, kidney, liver or heart problems, or is taking long-term medications that may suppress immunity, the flu can create more problems, advises Dr. Gupta.

Children should be protected against the flu. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

How contagious is seasonal flu in children?

If your child gets sick repeatedly, it’s probably from other kids at school. The flu is contagious and can spread easily, which is why school students get sick one after the other in the same class. Dr Gupta says: “The most common route of spread is droplet transmission. Viruses can spread from infected children to healthy children by coughing or sneezing nearby. It can spread quickly in busy places like schools, indoor play areas, cafeterias and others. The virus can also be spread through contact with contaminated hands,” he explains.

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Tips to Avoid Seasonal Flu in Children

Prevention is better than cure and there are many simple but practical ways to work on your immunity and overall health and avoid a seasonal flu. Some basic hygiene factors should also be considered. Dr. Gupta offers practical ways to keep the seasonal flu at bay.

  1. The flu vaccine is the best means of prevention. Every child aged 6 months to 5 years should receive the flu vaccine every year.
  2. Adopting a healthy lifestyle is important. This contributes to the overall health of a child.
  3. Regular hand washing should be encouraged.
  4. Children should have their nose and mouth clean when coughing or sneezing.
  5. Used tissues should be disposed of carefully.
  6. Avoid frequent touching of eyes, mouth and nose.
  7. Close contact with sick people should be avoided and children should be kept away from family members who have the flu.

How to treat seasonal flu at home

  • Adequate hydration is key to good recovery and also promotes overall health and well-being.
  • Symptomatic management such as antipyretics for fever and warm saline gargles are helpful.
  • The room temperature should be within a comfortable range (22-24°C) with a calming, noise-free environment.
  • The child should be given adequate rest, which will help strengthen the immune system.
  • A cough syrup or antimicrobial may be used. But this should only be used after consulting a doctor.

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