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Protect Your Child from the Flu

Updated for the 2023-2024 flu season

The flu (influenza) is caused by a virus that’s easy to spread, especially among kids in school or daycare. A child’s immune system is not as well developed as an adult’s. This means that the flu can make children very sick. Also, children in daycare or school are very likely to bring the virus home to other family members.

Experts strongly advise getting a flu vaccine to protect yourself, your family, and others. Now this is even more important, as flu,COVID-19, and RSV viruses are all likely to spread during flu season. People at high risk for complications from the flu are also likely to be at high risk for serious problems from COVID-19 or RSV, so it's important to get a flu vaccine.

Health care provider giving boy an injection. Mother holding baby in background.

Flu symptoms

Flu symptoms often come on quickly. Symptoms include:

  • High fever

  • Headache

  • Feeling very tired (fatigue)

  • Dry cough

  • Sore throat

  • Runny nose

  • Muscle aches

Children may also have upset stomach and vomiting. Some symptoms such as fatigue and cough can last many weeks.

To protect your child

Here’s how you can help your child stay healthy:

  • Have your child get a flu vaccine every year, as soon as it's available in your area. This is your child’s best chance to prevent the flu. The flu vaccine is recommended every year for babies 6 months and older, children, and teens.

  • Teach your child to wash their hands often, the right way. Your child should wash for at least 20 seconds. If your child needs a timer, try humming the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice. Have your child rinse well and dry using a clean towel.

  • Don't let your child drink from the same cup or use eating utensils that others have used. And don’t share foods.

  • Teach your children to cough or sneeze into their elbow, sleeve, or a tissue. Teach them to wash their hands afterward.

If your child gets sick

  • Give your child plenty of fluids, such as an electrolyte solution, water, juice, and soup.

  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest.

  • Keep your child at home to prevent the spread of germs. Do so until at least 24 hours after the fever is gone.

  • Use children’s strength medicine for symptoms. Discuss over-the-counter (OTC) medicines with your child's healthcare provider before using them. Note: Don’t give OTC cough and cold medicines to a child younger than age 6, unless your child's healthcare provider tells you to do so. Never give children adult medicines.

  • Talk to your pharmacist if you have any questions about OTC medicines for your child.

  • Don’t give your child or teen aspirin. Aspirin can cause a rare but serious condition called Reye syndrome.

  • Don’t give ibuprofen to an infant age 6 months or younger.

  • Ask your child’s provider about antiviral medicine. If taken within the first 2 days of the flu, it can help your child have fewer symptoms and get well sooner.

When to call your child's healthcare provider

Call your child's healthcare provider if your otherwise healthy child has:

  • Fever (see Fever and children, below)

  • Fever with rash

  • Seizure

  • Worsening symptoms, or new symptoms, especially after a period of improvement

  • Signs of dehydration. These include decreased urination (diapers not as wet as usual in a baby or toddler), dry mouth, and no tears when crying.

Call 911

Call 911 if your child has:

  • Bluish-tinged skin

  • Trouble waking up or is not alert

  • Severe or continued vomiting

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds and uses of digital thermometers. They include:

  • Rectal. For children younger than 3 years, a rectal temperature is the most accurate.

  • Forehead (temporal). This works for children age 3 months and older. If a child under 3 months old has signs of illness, this can be used for a first pass. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Ear (tympanic). Ear temperatures are accurate after 6 months of age, but not before.

  • Armpit (axillary). This is the least reliable but may be used for a first pass to check a child of any age with signs of illness. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Mouth (oral). Don’t use a thermometer in your child’s mouth until they are at least 4 years old.

Use a rectal thermometer with care. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. Insert it gently. Label it and make sure it’s not used in the mouth. It may pass on germs from the stool. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, ask the healthcare provider what type to use instead. When you talk with any healthcare provider about your child’s fever, tell them which type you used.

Below is when to call the healthcare provider if your child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers. Follow their instructions.

When to call a healthcare provider about your child’s fever

For a baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

  • A fever of ___________as advised by the provider

For a child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal or forehead: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Ear (only for use over age 6 months): 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • A fever of ___________ as advised by the provider

In these cases:

  • Armpit temperature of 103°F (39.4°C) or higher in a child of any age

  • Temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher in a child of any age

  • A fever of ___________ as advised by the provider

Online Medical Reviewer: Barry Zingman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Dan Brennan MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2022
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.