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How to care for children with the flu

Each year, millions of children catch the flu and thousands are hospitalized. We talked with pediatrician Dr. Stacy Drasen about the best way to protect your family—and what to do if kids end up sick.

Q: How can parents keep kids from catching the flu?

Dr. Drasen: Inoculation is absolutely the best prevention. It is not a guarantee, but it can help. We recommend getting the flu vaccine early in the season, but it is also available all winter long.

Q: How can I prevent siblings from getting sick?

Dr. Drasen: Let’s be honest—if one kid in the house gets the flu, it may be a losing battle to keep other kids in the house well. Good hand-washing, limiting utensil sharing, not kissing each other, not coughing in faces, and hygienic sneezing can help.

Q: What is the quickest way to help kids get better?

Dr. Drasen: Hydration and rest. If a child is complaining of pain, such as a headache or a sore throat, or if a fever is making them uncomfortable, ibuprofen or acetaminophen are good options. Parents should dress a child normally without over-bundling when they are sick. Additionally, a lukewarm bath or cool cloth on the head or neck may help to reduce a fever and support a child in feeling more comfortable.

Q: What should I do if my child isn’t eating?

Dr. Drasen: I never worry about a sick kid who hasn’t eaten solid food for a few days, but hydration is essential. Kids need liquids that contain some calories and electrolytes. Pedialyte or coconut water are good choices. Soups can also be good for hydration, but stick with something bland, not acidic like tomato. For food, crackers, pasta, and rice can help settle diarrhea.

Q: How can I help my child sleep?

Dr. Drasen: I always recommend nasal saline. No one likes using it, but clearing out post-nasal drip can help prevent nighttime coughing by cleaning out the back of the throat. Propping kids upright on pillows can also help with congestion.

Q: How long does the flu last?

Dr. Drasen: It is most contagious until 24 hours after the last fever has passed. The more significant symptoms of flu, including fever and muscle aches, last up to a week. Coughing and mild congestion can last a few weeks, especially in young children. Older kids and teens often complain about headaches and fatigue for weeks after their fever has resolved.

Q: When should I see a doctor?

Dr. Drasen: My rule of thumb is trust your gut. If parents feel like their child is sick enough to see a doctor, they probably are. Objective signs include:

  • A fever lasting more than 5 days, with a temperature above 100.4°F at some point each day
  • Distressed breathing
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Inability to tolerate liquids, leading to reduced urine output
  • The child remains uncomfortable, despite home remedies.

Vancouver Clinic offers flu immunizations at all locations. Schedule online or call (360) 882-2778 for an appointment.