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Your Baby and the Flu: FAQ

Medically Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on December 01, 2020

When the flu season hits, it's time to get smart about keeping your baby healthy. The flu is a much bigger deal than a cold. Learn how to prevent the virus from reaching your little one, and find out what to do if they get sick.

How does it spread?

When someone with the flu coughs, sneezes, or speaks, the virus moves through the air. Your baby can get infected if they breathe it in.

They may also get sick if they touch something that has the virus on it -- like a bottle, pacifier, or toy -- and then touches their eyes, mouth, or nose.

What's the best way to keep my baby from getting the flu?

It depends on their age. If they're over 6 months, they're old enough to get a flu shot. If your baby is allergic to eggs, talk to your pediatrician to see if it's OK for them to get the regular flu vaccine or if they need one that's made without that ingredient.

But what if your baby is younger than that? The CDC says your best bet is to make sure everyone who comes into regular close contact with them get a flu shot. That includes members of your family and baby sitters. It will reduce the risk that the virus will spread to your baby.

How do I know if my baby has a cold or the flu?

Sometimes it's easy to mix them up. But in general, flu symptoms are more severe than just a runny nose and sore throat.

Another major difference: a cold comes on gradually, while the flu tends to hit suddenly.

Some symptoms you may notice in your baby:

Call your pediatrician as soon as you notice any of those problems. You don't want to take any chances. When your baby has the flu, they could be at risk for complications, such as sinus and ear infections and pneumonia -- especially if they're under 6 months old. Quick treatment can help prevent trouble.

What's the treatment?

If your baby is at least 2 weeks old, your pediatrician may prescribe the antiviral drug oseltamivir (Tamiflu) to prevent or treat the flu. It works best when they take it in the first day or two after they get sick. However, children who are at high risk for flu complications or are hospitalized can still benefit with antiviral treatment even if beyond the 2-day window. 

How long can I expect my baby to be sick?

Fever and other symptoms usually go away after 5 days, but it often takes a week or two to fully recover.

What can I do to keep my baby comfortable while they're on the mend?

Make sure they get lots of rest and drinks plenty of fluids. They may have no appetite, but this isn't the time to miss out on nutrients. So try to feed them small meals throughout the day.

Check with your pediatrician before you give them anything to lower their temperature. Your doctor may recommend infant acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Don't use aspirin because it can cause a rare but life-threatening liver disorder called Reye's syndrome.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES: 

CDC: "Flu Complications" and "Flu Symptoms." 

American Academy of Pediatrics: "The Flu." 

March of Dimes: "Influenza (Flu) and Your Baby." 

KidsHealth: "Influenza."

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