Be Prepared for Flu Season

Follow these simple tips to help protect your children from the flu, plus what to do if your kids do get sick.

Peter Greenspan, MD

Peter Greenspan, MD, Medical Director, MassGeneral Hospital for Children

With the days turning colder, kids are thinking about skiing, hockey, or maybe just building a snow man and having some hot chocolate. But winter also brings flu season each year, and you want to do what you can to protect your children. With that in mind, we asked Dr. Peter Greenspan, a practicing primary-care pediatrician and the medical director of MassGeneral Hospital for Children, a few questions about what you can do to make sure your family is prepared.

Q: When does flu season start?

A: It’s usually between December and February, but we don’t know exactly when it’s going to hit each year or how severe it will be. That is why it is important to have your child vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available.

Q: What’s the most important thing parents can do to prepare for flu season?

A: It’s really important to have everybody in the whole family vaccinated. The recommendation is for everybody six months and above to have the flu vaccine each year. That is by far the best way to be prepared for the flu.

Q: If a child does get sick, what can parents do to care for their children at home?

A: Plenty of fluids and rest are important, and if a child has a fever, you’ll want to deal with that, usually with either ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Children who have the flu should stay home from school and should not be exposed to other kids. If you have family members who are under the age of 2 or over 65, you especially want to keep them away, as they are the people who most frequently develop complications from the flu.

Be Prepared

The last thing you want when you or your child gets sick is another errand. Here are a few things you should have on hand during flu season.

  • Tissues
  • Digital thermometer
  • Fever-reducing medicine: ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • Throat lozenges
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Hand sanitizer

Q: When should parents call their doctor?

A: Generally if a fever runs beyond 3-4 days, it’s worth checking in with your doctor. If a child has an increasing cough or certainly if a child has difficulty breathing you should call, because the flu can develop into pneumonia. And if your child has underlying problems, especially respiratory problems like asthma or cystic fibrosis, then you want to be especially careful and it may be worthwhile to check in with your doctor.

Q: What temperature would be a cause for contacting a doctor?

A: We define a fever as 100.4 degrees F or higher. Fevers up to 104 are fairly common. If the fever gets to the 105 range, that’s a reason to call.

Q: Is there anything else people should know?

A: If a child is running a really high fever and is really miserable in the first 24 to 48 hours, then you should check in with your doctor. There are some antiviral drugs that are specific for the flu, but it’s not always an easy call because you don’t always know whether a child has the flu or not. Just because they have a fever, doesn’t mean they have the flu that these drugs will deal with. These medicines have to be started within about 48 hours of the onset of the flu to be effective.

For more information about the flu:

Reviewed by Peter Greenspan, MD, August, 2014.

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