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Treating a Child With Swine Flu

WebMD talks to pediatricians for answers to common questions parents have about swine flu.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

What should you do if your child gets H1N1 swine flu? It’s a question many parents are facing this flu season. While the majority of cases for children and teens have been mild, requiring only home treatment, a growing number of  children -- some with no underlying medical conditions -- have needed hospitalization or have died from the disease.

Here are answers to common questions about treating H1N1 swine flu in your children and advice on when you need to seek medical attention.

Swine Flu Outbreak: Get the Facts

Swine Flu Slideshow

Learn more about the H1N1 swine flu and see what you can do to stay healthy.

View the slideshow.

What if your child gets sick? What are symptoms of swine flu in children?

"Influenza is very different from the common cold,” says Joseph Bocchini, MD, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Disease. Bocchini is also chairman of the department of pediatrics at Louisiana State University. “Classically, with influenza, children have sudden onset of significant fever with respiratory symptoms. High fever, chills. Older children will complain of headache, scratchy sore throat, and muscle aches. Children will develop a nasal congestion and cough."

What should parents do if their child has flu-like symptoms?

This flu season, it's more important than ever to keep sick children at home until at least 24 hours after their symptoms go away.

“If a child has mild illness, or something that looks like the flu, with fever and chills, headache, body ache, coughing, sore throat, they should definitely stay home from school or day care, says pediatrician Heather O’Donnell, MD, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, Bronx, N.Y. "They should continue taking Tylenol and Motrin for fever. Parents should encourage hydration.”

If your child is 5 years old or older and is otherwise healthy, consult your doctor as needed -- and follow O'Donnell's advice to make sure the child drinks enough fluids and gets a lot of rest.

If your child is younger than 5, or if your child of any age has a medical condition such as asthma, diabetes, or a neurologic problem, call your doctor or get medical attention. Younger kids and kids with longstanding medical conditions are at risk of serious disease if they get either seasonal or pandemic H1N1 swine flu.

Are there signs parents should watch for?

“Parents should monitor closely for any signs that children are getting worse, if they have any difficulty breathing, if they are not able to drink, or are not urinating well, if they are very irritable even after their fever goes down, if they have any sort of rash, or if the fever goes down and flu symptoms get better, then get worse again," O'Donnell says.

Call a doctor or seek immediate medical attention if your child:

  • Has bluish or gray skin color
  • Is not drinking enough fluids or taking feeding well
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Has severe or persistent vomiting
  • Is not waking up or not interacting
  • Is so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Has flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Has other conditions such as heart or lung disease, diabetes, or asthma and develops flu symptoms including fever and cough


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