Symptoms and Signs of Flu in Children (Childhood Influenza)

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/1/2022

Doctor's Notes on Flu in Children (Childhood Influenza)

Flu in children (childhood influenza) is an acute viral infection of the airway and occasionally the lungs, caused by types A, B, and C with type A serotypes causing the most severe disease. Signs and symptoms start about 2-4 days after exposure to the virus and include

Infants less than 6 months of age may show

  • lethargy,
  • poor feeding, and
  • poor circulation.

In most children, the symptoms last about 3-4 days and resolve, but the cough and tiredness may last longer (1-2 weeks). If symptoms become severe, the child needs to be seen by a pediatric caregiver.

The cause of flu in children are influenza viruses. Many children recover spontaneously; however, some viral serotypes like H1N1 may cause severe disease in more children than other serotypes. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get the yearly flu vaccine.

What Are the Treatments for Flu in Children (Childhood Influenza)?

Treatments may vary according to the child's symptoms, age, and general health. The best therapy is prevention with the yearly flu vaccine. Although many children can self-cure this viral disease, medicines may be used to prevent or reduce flu symptoms:

  • Acetaminophen helps with body aches and fever reduction. (Caution: Do not give aspirin to children under age 18 years of age.)
  • Antiviral medicine may shorten the time to recovery if started within 2 days of the initial symptoms. (Antibiotics don't work against flu viruses.)
  • Cough medicine: pediatrician prescribed to reduce coughing
  • Home care: Rest, sleep, and drink a lot of fluids to avoid dehydration.

Children with severe flu symptoms or underlying medical problems may need to be treated in a hospital setting.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.