What Is the Treatment for Flu in Children?
Most children with the flu will have relatively mild illness and do not need antiviral medications. However, for those with more severe illness or who have other chronic illnesses and children less than 2 years of age are at greater risk of developing complications, antiviral medicines may help.
Five influenza antiviral drugs are currently licensed in the United States and are available from a doctor by prescription. If given within the first 48 hours from onset of symptoms, antiviral agents decrease the severity and duration of symptoms, but their ability to prevent complications of influenza A has not been established. While these medications lessen the duration and intensity of symptoms, they do not cure the patient. It is also important to know that these medications do not affect the duration of contagiousness. The primary drawback of these types of medications is that resistant viruses can make them ineffective. As new medications are being developed all the time, make sure to discuss potential use of antivirals with your health care provider.
- Neuraminidase inhibitors (NAI) are FDA approved for uncomplicated influenza when the symptoms have been present for fewer than 48 hours. The main advantages of the NAI are their activity against both influenza A and B and activity against the current circulating strains. Zanamivir (Relenza)
is approved for treatment in children older than 7 years of age, but it is
not approved for prevention of developing influenza if exposed to the virus.
The drug is available as topical powder administered by a breath-activated
inhalation device. Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) is licensed for children older than
2 weeks of age and has been recommended by the CDC for children over 2 weeks
of age when appropriate. It is available as a tablet and suspension and is
usually taken for 5 days. In certain circumstances, Tamiflu may be administered as a preventative medication.
- Peramivir (Rapivab) is approved for patients age 18 and older.
- M2 inhibitors include the drugs amantadine (Symmetrel and Symadine) and rimantadine (Flumadine). Both have been used in the prevention and treatment of influenza type A. However, the yearly changes in the circulating strains of influenza have made these drugs less effective. These antiviral agents are not effective against influenza B and are not approved for use in children younger than 1 year of age. Rimantadine has not been approved for treatment of children younger than 13 years of age. Amantadine and rimantadine have not been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since the 2009-2010 influenza season. Laboratory testing by the CDC on the predominant strain of influenza (H1N1) currently circulating in the United States shows that it is resistant to amantadine and rimantadine and therefore should not be used.
- Currently, no antiviral agents exist for use against influenza C infections.
- The broad-spectrum antiviral agent ribavirin (Rebetol, Virazole Aerosol), given in aerosol form like nebulization, may be of benefit and is being studied. At the moment, its use is controversial and it is not recommended or FDA-approved for treatment or prevention of influenza in children.
Variant H3N2 Influenza
Since July 2012, there have been sporadic outbreaks of variant H3N2 flu (H3N2v). This is a different type of influenza A. These cases appear to be mainly spread from pigs to humans and have been seen where close contact between humans and pigs occurred, such as at fairs. Like seasonal flu, however, serious illness, resulting in hospitalization and death is possible from H3N2v. People at high risk of serious complications from H3N2v include children younger than 5 years of age, people with certain chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, weakened immune systems, pregnant women, and people 65 years and older. These people were urged by the CDC to avoid pigs and pig arenas at fairs this season.
Swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs that is also an influenza virus type A
family member. Sometimes these viruses also infect humans and are called variant viruses.
Avian flu (bird flu) is a disease caused by
a specific influenza type A virus. This is mainly found in wild birds but can infect domestic poultry, as well. Rarely it can be transmitted to humans and can cause human disease. Three types of avian influenza that are known to cause disease in birds and humans are H5, H7, and H9. Contact with infected birds is a risk factor for human infection. One concern is that an avian influenza virus may mutate to allow easier spread from person to person and thus cause an epidemic or pandemic.
Since 2013, reports from China have focused on a new bird flu, H7N9, which is associated with contact with infected poultry. At the time of this article, there have been over 57 cases of confirmed human infection, but none have been associated with ongoing human-to-human transmission.