Flu Symptoms In Kids: A Simple Guide

When a child has flu, it is often a difficult time for the parent and caregivers. It is a period where they are less active, may be easily irritable, and are generally unhealthy.

Every winter, millions of people including children suffer from seasonal flu.

In this article, we will walk through the steps to take when a child has the flu.

What Is The Flu?

Although it is often mistaken with the common cold, the flu is very different from a cold. It is more sudden in onset and the symptoms are widespread, compared to a cold which develops slowly over the course of a few days.

It is an infection of the upper respiratory tract caused by the influenza viruses. There are three common types of flu viruses:

  • Influenza A
  • Influenza B
  • Influenza C

Influenza A and B are responsible for causing seasonal outbreaks and epidemics in the United States, especially in winter, but can be present all year long.


Flu is seen in people of all ages but commonly seen in these groups:

  • Elderly
  • Children Under Five
  • Pregnant women
  • Very obese people
  • People on long-term steroid therapy
  • People with a weakened immune system
  • People with chronic medical diseases like diabetes, asthma or heart disease.

It is also more serious in these groups of persons. Flu is highly contagious and may become widespread in a matter of hours. Children who have not had their flu shots and touch random surfaces during play without washing their hands after touching these surfaces are particularly at risk of getting the flu.

Flu Symptoms In Kids


The flu is generally more serious than the common cold. Even though some symptoms found in the common cold are also found in the flu, flu symptoms are usually more sudden in onset. Some symptoms include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Muscle and body aches
  • Runny or blocked nose
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Cold sweats
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Fatigue and general tiredness
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Typically, recovery for most people occurs in a matter of days when they get the flu. It may, however, worsen current diseases and cause flare-ups.

The flu can become complicated and develop into a complex, often severe disease, such as pneumonia which may be life-threatening. It can also cause ear and sinus infections, inflammation of the heart (called myocarditis), inflammation of the brain (called encephalitis), inflammation of the muscles (called myositis) and kidney or respiratory failure.

It can also lead to sepsis, a severe, life-threatening condition where the infection spreads to the blood causing the body systems to shut down. This complication is very rare and is usually only seen in patients who have compromised immune systems such as HIV, transplant patients, or chronic steroid use.

What Should You Do If A Child Has The Flu?

sleeping child

If your child has the flu, the following are steps to take:

  • Isolate him or her by staying at home and away from public areas such as school or the park until he or she has been fever-free for 24 hours. Avoiding contact with other people will help stop the spread of the flu virus.
  • Keep them hydrated with water and juices.
  • Use over-the-counter pain relievers (NOT ASPIRIN) to reduce fever and body aches.
  • Let him or her eat as much as possible.
  • Use a paper towel when they sneeze or cough to trap germs then trash them as soon as possible.
  • Keep them warm and rest in bed.
  • Ask your doctor if you can use antiviral medications. For these medications to work, they must be started within 48 hours of the start of the flu episode.

When To Go To The Doctor

doctor in ER

If your child has got the flu and has one or more of the following symptoms, you need to see your healthcare professional immediately.

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fast breathing
  • Fever that is persistent or worsening
  • Dehydration
  • Seizures
  • Chest pain
  • Severe muscle pain
  • In-drawing of the ribs when breathing
  • Reduced level of consciousness or activity

How Is It Spread?

It is spread via respiratory droplets when in direct contact with a person who has the flu. When they sneeze, talk or cough, these droplets are released into the air and can get onto your skin, into your nose, eyes, and mouth. Touching, holding hands, and kissing someone with the flu will also allow the spread of the viruses.


It may also be spread when the respiratory droplets land on surfaces of objects such as telephones, doorknobs, toys, pencils and pens, tables, phones, and computer keyboards. The flu virus can survive for a while on these surfaces and so, its spread is possible when someone else makes contact with these surfaces. It may also be transmitted via shared utensils in the home.

People with the flu are contagious 1 – 2 days before their symptoms begin and up to 7 days after the start of the disease.

How To Prevent It

syringe vaccine

Generally, antibiotics cannot treat the flu but a few antivirals can. The key aspect of treatment is the provision of support and treatment for symptoms. Thus, it is imperative to prevent yourself and your child from developing the flu. The best way to prevent flu is to get vaccinated each year.

The vaccinations for flu are of two types:

  1. Flu shot
  2. Nasal spray

They typically begin to work after the second week of administration. You should get your children older than 6 months flu shots as soon as the vaccines are available. The shots last for a period of one year because the viruses that cause the flu change or mutate frequently. The flu shots developed for the year are as such, the best protection in that year.  The nasal spray has been held off for now due to questions about its efficiency.

If they have a severe allergic reaction to eggs, had a reaction to a flu shot in the past, or are currently ill, they should be excused from getting the flu shot. You should speak with your healthcare professional on alternatives.

If you come in contact with objects touched by someone who has the flu, ensure that you wash your hands before eating or touching your eyes and nose. You should also do your best to stay away from people with the flu, or keep your interaction to the barest minimum.



Being prepared for the flu season is absolutely important. Ensure that your kids get the vaccines as soon as they are available. In the event of them coming down with the flu, you should take the steps above and monitor them closely so they don’t develop a severe form of the flu.

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Zubair Abdulahi, MBBS

Dr. Zubair Abdulahi is a licensed medical practitioner with a degree in medicine and surgery who is interested in using new media to influence health decisions by providing information on health queries. He has written for top publications in Nigeria like the Guardian. When he's not working as a doctor, he enjoys the game of football as well as sight-seeing and listening to classical music.
Zubair Abdulahi, MBBS