What to Do If Your Child Is Exposed to the Flu

During a bad flu season, especially when effectiveness of the flu vaccine is less than ideal, parents want to know how to protect their kids from the flu.

Protecting Kids from the Flu

Cover your coughs and sneezes so you don't spread the flu virus to other people.
Covering your coughs and sneezes might help prevent the spread of the flu virus to other people.

Of course,  the best way to protect kids from the flu and serious complications of the flu is to get a flu vaccine each year.

Still, the flu vaccine isn’t perfect.

So, what else can you do?

Like other respiratory diseases that are mainly spread by coughing and sneezing, you can help reduce the risk that your kids will get sick by:

  • as much as possible and practical, keeping your kids away from other people, especially those who are obviously sick
  • encouraging your kids and others to properly cover their coughs and sneezes
  • teaching your kids to wash their hands properly
  • encouraging your kids to not touch their eyes, nose, or mouth, or to bite their nails or put things in their mouth, like their pencil or pen
  • cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that your child will likely touch
  • encouraging others to stay home from school or work when they have the flu until they are fever free for at least 24 hours, although they might be contagious for even longer

While these techniques might not work, they are certainly better than doing nothing and simply letting your kids catch the flu.

What to Do If Your Child Is Exposed to the Flu

If your kids do anything outside the home, even if they don’t go to daycare or school, there might come a time during a long flu season when they get exposed to someone with the flu.

What do you do?

“Prevention (prophylaxis) is a term used when someone who does not have flu symptoms is given Tamiflu to help stop them from getting the flu because they are exposed to or come into close contact with someone (for example live with or take care of someone) who has the flu.”

FDA on Tamiflu: Consumer Questions and Answers

In addition to watching for classic flu symptoms to develop over the next one to four days, if your child is unvaccinated or it is a year during which the flu vaccine is not very effective, if your child is in a high risk group for severe complications from the flu (under age two to five years or any age with chronic medical problems), then you might ask your pediatrician about:

  • a once a day dose of Tamiflu (Oseltamivir), which is recommended as a preventative in infants as young as three months old
  • a once a day dose of Relenza (Zanamivir), which is recommended as a preventative in children as young as five years old, unless they have respiratory problems, like asthma

But that doesn’t mean that everyone should take these flu medicines every time they are exposed to someone with the flu. If these medicines are overused, flu viruses will develop resistance and they won’t work, just like happened to some of the older anti-viral flu medicines, amantadine and rimantadine.

Still, if your child with diabetes, uncontrolled asthma, muscular dystrophy, or healthy four month old is closely exposed to someone with the flu, then taking Tamiflu to prevent a potentially severe case of the flu is likely a good idea.

What to Do If Your Child Gets the Flu

And if your child gets the flu?

Believe it or not, most healthy school age kids with the flu don’t need to be seen by their pediatrician.

“When treatment is started within two days of becoming sick with flu symptoms, antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by about one day. They may reduce the risk of complications such as ear infections in children, and pneumonia and hospitalizations in adults. For people at high risk of serious flu complications, early treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having milder illness instead of more severe illness that might require a hospital stay.”

CDC on What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs

You should see your pediatrician or other health care provider at the first sign of flu symptoms if they are at high risk for serious complications of the flu and they might benefit from Tamiflu, which includes those under two to five years old and children with any chronic medical problems.

And of course, seek medical attention if your child with the flu is showing signs of a severe case of the flu, such as trouble breathing, dehydration, or being inconsolable, etc.

You should also seek medical attention if your child with the flu was getting better, but then starts to get worse again, with a return of fever, worsening cough, or severe headache, etc.

When in doubt, call your pediatrician!

What to Know About Protecting Kids from the Flu

In addition to avoiding people who are sick with the flu, see your pediatrician as soon as possible if your younger, high risk child is gets sick after being exposed to someone with the flu.

More on Protecting Kids from the Flu

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