Seasonal flu in kids: Causes, symptoms and ways to prevent

Seasonal flu in kids is a common occurrence. Fever, headache, chills, cough and body ache are some of the common symptoms.

While winter comes with its cosy mornings and shorter days, treating seasonal flu is another big part of winter agendas in most households! Seasonal flu is a rather common but extremely tiresome illness which happens at the onset of winter. A temperature dip of even a few degrees at night, and you may have a severely sick child in the morning, with a bad cough and runny nose. Let us know all about seasonal flu in kids.

How is seasonal flu different from a common cold?

Both have stuffy noses and coughs, but seasonal flu and common cold are actually quite different. Dr Neeraj Gupta, Allergist, Pediatric Intensivist and Sleep Specialist explains that the cause of the two varies. “Flu is caused by Influenza virus whereas common cold may be due to other viral infections like RSV, Rhino-, Entero- or Adeno- viruses.”

Also, colds might not be so severe and kids may just showcase symptoms such as cough, sore throat, sneezing or a stuffy nose. A cold can happen anytime, anywhere! “On the other hand, seasonal flu is more common in changing weather with high grade fever, severe body aches, headache and fatigue. Fever can come along with chills. There can be cough and breathing difficulty. Nose symptoms may be present and of mild intensity,” says Dr Gupta.

Recovery time also varies. Flu symptoms can last for over two weeks but a common cold should settle in five to seven days at max. A flu may require medical care, but a common cold takes care of itself in most cases.

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When is a seasonal flu in kids dangerous?

How serious can a cough, runny nose and body ache be? Well, there are a few tell-tale signs that you need to watch out for! “These can be high grade fever, relentless cough, fast or shallow breathing, chest retractions, bluish discoloration of lips or arms, cold extremities, severe headache, decreased appetite, lethargy or inactivity or increased irritability, child not feeling or looking well,” says Dr Gupta. If your child has these symptoms, you must take them to a paediatric facility.

Another point to be kept in mind is that if the child has other chronic illnesses like asthma, immunodeficiency, kidney, liver or heart problems, or on long term medications which may suppress immunity than flu can create more problems, advises Dr Gupta.

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Seasonal flu in kids causes
Children need to be protected against influenza. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

How contagious is seasonal flu in kids?

If your kid happens to fall sick again and again, it’s probably from other kids at school. Flu is contagious and can spread easily, which is why schools have students falling ill one after another in one classroom. Dr Gupta says, “The most common route of spread is droplet transmission. Viruses can transmit from infected to healthy children while coughing or sneezing during their close proximity. It can spread rapidly in crowded places like schools, indoor play areas, cafeterias and others. The virus can also spread by touch with contaminated hands,” he says.

Tips to avoid seasonal flu in kids

Prevention is always better than cure and there are many simple yet practical ways where one can work on one’s immunity and overall health and actually avoid a seasonal flu. Some basic hygiene factors also need to be taken into account. Dr Gupta enlists some practical ways to keep seasonal flu at bay.

  1. Flu vaccine is the best way for prevention. Any child between 6 months to 5 years should receive Influenza vaccine annually.
  2. Adoption of a healthy lifestyle is important. This helps the overall health of a child.
  3. Regular hand washing should be promoted.
  4. Children must nose and mouth while coughing or sneezing.
  5. Used tissues should be disposed of carefully.
  6. Avoid frequent touching of eyes, mouth and nose.
  7. Close contacts with sick people need to be avoided and kids should be kept away from family member suffering from the flu.

How to treat seasonal flu at home

  • Adequate hydration is the key to recovering well and encourages overall health and well being as well.
  • Symptomatic management like antipyretic for fever and warm saline gargles are helpful.
  • Room temperature should be in comfortable range (22-24’C) with noise free soothing environment
  • The child should get adequate rest, which will help in strengthening the immune system.
  • A cough syrup or anti-microbial can be used. But this should be used only after physician consultation.