What is the flu?

Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious illness that affects the respiratory system, or the organs that help you breathe. This includes the lungs, nose and mouth. Contagious means the illness can be spread to other people when you sneeze, cough or touch shared surfaces, like doorknobs or keyboards.

How is the flu different from a cold?

The flu is different from a cold because the flu usually presents with a high fever. Cold symptoms often don’t include fever.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

  • Fever (100.4°F/38°C or higher) or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches, muscle aches or body aches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)

Who is at risk of catching the flu?

Everyone can catch the flu, but there are certain people who have a higher risk than others, including:

  • Children age 5 and younger
  • Adults age 65 and older
  • Pregnant women
  • Postpartum women who have had a baby within the last 2 weeks
  • People with asthma, diabetes or kidney or liver problems also have a higher risk of developing complications from the flu.

How can I care for my child if he/she has the flu?

Here are some tips on caring for your child if he/she has the flu:

  • Have your child get plenty of rest and fluids.
  • Keep your child home from school and other activities so he/she doesn’t spread the flu to other people.
  • Have your child cover his/her mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. If your child doesn’t have a tissue, have him/her cough or sneeze into his/her elbow.
  • Have your child wash his/her hands or use hand sanitizer after coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean surfaces your child touches often, like doorknobs or toys, with antibacterial wipes.

Which supplies should I have to care for my child who has the flu?

Here are some supplies you should keep on hand in case your child has the flu:

  • Tissues
  • A digital thermometer to take your child’s temperature
  • Throat lozenges
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Fever-reducing medications, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen

When should I call the doctor?

You should call the doctor if:

  • Your child is under age 5 and has chronic (long-lasting or lifelong) medical conditions, like asthma, cystic fibrosis or kidney disease
  • Your child’s immune system is compromised (doesn’t work as well as it should because of different medical conditions)
  • Your child has a fever of 105°F/40.5°C or higher
  • Your child has a fever lasting more than 3-4 days
  • You’re worried about your child’s symptoms or about how sick your child is
  • Your child has trouble breathing or a cough that gets worse

Learn more about the flu

  • Seasonal flu information from Massachusetts General Hospital
  • “Be Prepared for Flu Season” by Peter T. Greenspan, MD, medical director of MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) and vice chair of Pediatrics at MGHfC.

Did you know...?

Getting a flu vaccine is the best protection against the flu. Flu vaccines protect you and your family from 4 different types of flu. Everyone in your family who is 6 months of age or older should get a flu vaccine. For the 2016-2017 flu season, the nasal sniff (FluMist®) is not available. You can only get the flu vaccine as an injection.

If a family member is age 65 or older, have him/her get a high-dose flu vaccine for extra protection. Visit your doctor’s office or ask your health insurance company where you can get a flu vaccine covered by your insurance.

Rev. 9/2016