11 things parents need to know about the flu, the vaccine, how long kids need to stay out of school

The Centers for Disease and Prevention are reporting higher than average cases of influenza across the country this flu season.

Forty-six states have seen widespread flu, and 13 children have died from complications of the virus since October.

Influenza in children, especially young children can be very dangerous.

Here are 11 things parents need to know about the 2017-2018 influenza season.

What is the flu?

Influenza is a virus that infects the nose, throat and lungs.

What are signs of the flu?

Signs of the flu include high fever, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, dry cough and sore muscles. Children who have contracted the flu may also have stomach pain and/or diarrhea. Symptoms of the flu will come on quickly. 

>>What is the H3N2 flu and how bad is flu season this year?

Is the flu vaccine the best way to protect children?

The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend annual flu vaccinations for everyone age 6 months and older. The vaccination offers protection against the influenza strains researchers believe will be the most likely to spread in a given flu season. 

Is the vaccination still available in nasal spray? 

In year’s past, the vaccine was available via nose spray. It is now available only in shot form. A new vaccine -- the quadrivalent vaccine – is available this year. The vaccine is designed to protect against four different flu viruses; two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses. While the quadrivalent vaccine is one of several vaccines available, health officials do not give preference for one type over another.

Can’t you can't get the flu from the flu vaccine?

Influenza vaccines are made from an inactivated virus that can't transmit infection. You will not catch the flu from the vaccine. There can be side effects – pain, tenderness and slight swelling at the site of the injection – and some infants can run a fever after the shot. If a child is vaccinated but still gets the flu, he or she will likely have a milder version of the disease. In previous years, 90 percent of those children who died after contracting the flu had not been inoculated against the disease.

Can the flu vaccine be given with other vaccines? 

Yes, it can.

What if my child has an egg allergy?

Eggs are used in the production of the virus, but that doesn’t mean you cannot get the flu shot if you have an egg allergy. If your child’s allergy is mild to moderate, they will likely have no problem with the shot. If your child has a severe reaction to eggs, he or she can still get the vaccination, but it should be given by a physician who can monitor the child for a severe reaction to eggs. 

>> Read more trending news

Can children take antiviral medication if they get the flu?

Yes children can get take antiviral medication should they get the flu. Children can take Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza). Antivirals are most effective when given within 48 hours of feeling the symptoms of the flu. Antibiotics will not help if you have influenza. The flu is a virus.

What are the signs of flu complications that should make you consider taking your child to the hospital? 

(From the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics)

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs:

  • Being unable to eat
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Has no tears when crying
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

How long can a sick child spread the flu to others?

Generally, people who have the flu can spread it to others from one day before symptoms begin to five to seven days after feeling ill. Children may pass the virus along for longer than 7 days, the CDC warns. Symptoms start 1 to 4 days after the virus enters the body.

When do you know it's over? When can they go back to school or daycare?

The CDC recommends a child with the flu stay at home until they are free of a fever for at least 24 hours. They should be fever-free without the use of a fever-reducing medication, such as ibuprofen (Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). 

If you have any questions about the flu or the flu shot, check out the CDC site flu.gov.

Sources: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the American Academy of Pediatrics; WebMD

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