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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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What's Your Cold and Flu IQ?

Pediatric health experts answer parents' top 10 questions about sneezy, sniffly cold-weather maladies.

6.  How long is my child contagious?

After your child is exposed to the flu virus, it takes one to four days to develop symptoms, and no one knows exactly what the incubation period is, says Smith. That means your child can be contagious for a few days before showing any flu symptoms. With colds, kids are usually contagious two days before any signs, depending on the virus.

What about after a cold or flu? Children generally are not contagious after two to three days of cold symptoms and after four or five days with the flu, says Rotbart. "The general rule is when your child is feeling better, it's safe for others to be around them," he says. "There may be a smidgen of virus hanging around, but when they're feeling better, they're not sneezing and coughing as much and are less likely to spread the virus."

7.  When should I treat my child's fever? Can I give over-the-counter cold medicines?

"I don't think there's a magic number when it comes to fever temperatures," says Smith. "It depends on how your child is feeling. If your child complains of a headache, body aches, or sore throat, you can give acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help bring the fever down and make your child more comfortable."

You should never give aspirin to treat the flu (or a cold) in children. Aspirin can lead to Reye's syndrome (brain damage and liver failure), a condition linked to taking aspirin during an influenza infection and other viruses, such as chickenpox.

Also, never give children under 4 any cold or cough medicines, the FDA warns, because they may produce serious side effects. For older children, you can give these medicines occasionally, but many children's health experts feel there isn't enough proof they are effective for symptom relief.

8.  What about home remedies? Do any work?

Yes, says Rotbart. "Honey is as good for a cough as any cough medicine. For kids older than 1 year, a teaspoon or tablespoon of honey is a safe and quite effective home remedy." Honey is not safe for children younger than a year because of the risk of botulism.

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