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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Specifically for Kids: Preventing and Treating Flu in Children

8 tips to protect your children from the flu.
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It’s a fact of parenting life: Kids equal germs. They share toys, put things in their mouths, and rub their faces with grubby little hands. During the fall and winter, schools, day care centers, and other places where children gather act as incubators for colds and the flu. So flu prevention for children is much more complicated than it is for adults.

What can you do to help make sure little Olivia or Ethan doesn’t bring home a nice big dose of the flu with this week’s art project? Try these tips on flu prevention for children:

  • Teach them to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they cough or sneeze. Then throw the tissue away.
  • Wash their hands often with soap and water. If you’re out and about, keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer handy.
  • Remind kids not to touch their hands, eyes, or mouth, a common path for germs to spread. They will forget, so keep reminding.
  • Don’t send your child to school sick. This rule can be hard for busy parents to live by, but ignoring it will just keep the virus spreading.

Above all: Get your children vaccinated! The flu vaccine is widely available this year, and it can be given to children 6 months old and up. Kids between 6 months and 5 years old are especially vulnerable to flu complications, so it’s particularly important to vaccinate them.

There are two types of vaccine: the flu shot and a nasal spray. Officials have just lowered the age at which the nasal spray can be prescribed from age 5 to age 2, so if your younger child hates needles (and who doesn’t?), you now have an alternative.

Even if your kids are vaccinated and pros at hand-scrubbing and cough-covering, the flu can sometimes sneak around their defenses. (And let’s face it, even the best-behaved kids don’t do what parents tell them every single time.) So when your little one is down for the count, coughing, feverish, and achy, how can you make her feel better?

  • If symptoms set in less than 48 hours ago, get in to the doctor pronto for a prescription of one of the antiviral flu medications, Tamiflu or Relenza. These medicines are only effective if started within that 48-hour window. If you get antiviral medication in time, you can shorten the duration of the flu by one to two days and lessen its severity.
  • Give plenty of fluids. This doesn’t have to be water -- ice pops and soft fruits (melons are great for this) also keep kids hydrated.
  • Keep your child resting. Usually the flu knocks out a child’s energy, but for those who hate to stay still, offer treats like DVDs or new books to make a day in bed attractive.
  • Give children’s acetaminophen (Tylenol) for fever and aches. Never give aspirin without talking to your doctor. Aspirin can cause a serious disease called Reye’s syndrome in children.

Reviewed on October 18, 2007

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