Flu in Infants: What to Expect
Getting the flu can be scary for anyone, but it can be especially frightening when your infant gets it.
Babies and children under two are at a higher risk of developing complications from the flu, as their immune systems haven’t fully developed. When an infant gets influenza, they’re more likely to get seriously ill and wind up in the hospital.
However, you shouldn’t let this information scare you, as it’s easy to protect your child from the flu. Read this guide on infants and the flu to learn what to expect if your baby gets sick.
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What is the flu and how does it spread?
Most of us are somewhat familiar with influenza (the flu). The flu is a virus that easily spreads from person to person through the air. When someone with the flu sneezes, coughs, or speaks, they can spread the flu to another person.
Your infant can become infected with the flu if they breathe in or touch something (such as a toy) with the virus. People with the flu may infect others starting a day before they get sick and up to 5 to 7 days after.
While the flu is quite common, it can make anyone sick, especially infants. The flu caused a record number of infant and child deaths in 2017, and most children who died of the flu this year were unvaccinated.
How to Prevent the Flu in Infants
Vaccinating your infant is the best way to prevent them from contracting the flu. The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend everyone six months and older receive the flu vaccination annually.
As mentioned earlier, it’s crucial for young children to get the flu vaccination, as they have not yet built up the antibodies to fight the virus. Flu season runs from October to May, so it’s best to have your child vaccinated before the season starts.
There are two ways children can receive the flu vaccine:
- Flu Shot: Children six months and up can receive the flu shot.
- Flu Nasal Spray: Your child’s doctor can put the nasal spray in their nose. Flu nasal spray is available for children ages two and up, and it’s not suitable for infants or children with certain health conditions, like heart and lung issues or asthma.
The first time a doctor administers the flu vaccine to your infant, they’ll receive two doses for extra protection. Then, your child should get one dose of the flu vaccine every year after.
There are different variations of the flu vaccine, and you can speak to your pediatrician about which vaccine is best for your child. If your infant had a bad reaction to the flu vaccine in the past, talk to your doctor. You should also speak to your doctor if your child is allergic to eggs, as some flu vaccines contain eggs.
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Flu in Infants: Signs and Symptoms
If your infant contracts the flu, treating it as quickly as possible is vital. Here are some signs and symptoms to watch out for so you can promptly begin treatment:
- Being very tired/sleepy
- Fever (100 F or above)
- Body shakes or chills
- Sore throat
- Headaches, muscle aches, and body aches
- Fussiness- so fussy that your baby doesn’t want to be held
- Bluish color on face or lips
- Not waking up easily
- Not being alert when awake
- Not urinating as often as normal
- Fast or troubled breathing
- Worsening of chronic health conditions (like asthma)
Flu symptoms can come on quickly and last for a week or more. Unfortunately, your baby can’t tell you about its flu symptoms, so you should pay attention to see if your baby seems sicker or fussier than usual.
If your infant exhibits any of the above signs or symptoms, take them to the emergency room.
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Flu in Infants: Complications
Infant influenza can lead to several severe complications, including:
- Worsening of chronic health conditions
- Brain issues, such as encephalopathy
- Ear infections
- Sinus problems
- Death (although rare)
Flu in Infants: Treatment
If your baby contracts the flu, your healthcare provider will likely prescribe an antiviral medication to treat it. Antiviral medicine kills infections from viruses, and it can help your infant feel better faster.
The medication can also help prevent severe complications from the flu, such as pneumonia. Antiviral medicine works best if taken within two days of symptom manifestation.
The following medications have been approved in the US for children with the flu:
- Oseltamivir (brand name: Tamiflu®): Children as young as two weeks can take this medication. It comes in liquid or capsule form.
- Zanamivir (brand name: Relenza®): Children as young as five can take this medication. It comes in a powder and can be breathed in through the mouth.
- Peramivir (brand name: Rapivab®): Children as young as two can take this medication. It’s administered through a needle into the vein by a doctor.
If your infant has the flu, you should also give them plenty of rest and liquids. Your baby may not want to eat much, so stick to small meals throughout the day.
Ibuprofen (Advil® or Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol®) can help alleviate flu symptoms. Speak to your healthcare provider before administering this medication to your infant.
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Know When to See a Doctor
The flu can be scary, but knowing the above information can help keep your infant safe. Keep up with your infant’s flu vaccinations, and bring them to the doctor promptly if they contract the flu.Check out our subscription baby boxes if you’re looking for other ways to improve your infant’s health.