What Is the Flu?

The flu (influenza) is a very contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract (nose, throat, and lungs). The flu can make someone feel pretty sick for up to a week.

Who Gets the Flu?

Anyone can get the flu, but kids tend to get it more often than adults. Some very young children or kids with health problems can get very sick and need special care.

How Is the Flu Treated?

The flu usually doesn't need need medical treatment. But some people are at high risk for other health problems (such as pneumonia) from the flu. They include:

  • children younger than 5 years old
  • pregnant women
  • people with asthma
  • people with weaken immune systems

If they report flu symptoms within the first 2 days of the illness, a doctor might prescribe an antiviral medicine. But these medicines usually only shorten the course of the infection by 1 or 2 days.

How Can I Help My Child?

If your child gets the flu:

  • Offer plenty of liquids. Fever, which is common with the flu, can lead to dehydration. Offer plain water, ice pops, icy drinks mixed in a blender, and soft fruits (like melons or grapes).
  • Encourage your child to rest in bed or on the couch with a supply of magazines, books, quiet music, and perhaps a favorite movie.
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for aches and pains. (Do not give aspirin unless your doctor tells you to. It has been linked to a rare but serious illness called Reye syndrome.)
  • Dress your child in layers that are easy to add and remove during bouts of chills or fever.
  • Take care of yourself and the other people in your family. If you haven't already, speak to your doctor about getting a flu vaccine for you and other family members. It is recommended yearly for everyone older than 6 months of age. Also, wash your hands well and often, especially after picking up used tissues.

If your doctor prescribes medicine to ease symptoms, call the pharmacist before you go to pick it up. In a severe flu season, some pharmacies might have trouble keeping the medicines in stock.

Kids who are sick should stay home from school and childcare until they:

  • feel better
  • have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine
Back to Articles


Related Articles

Flu Center

Get the basics on how flu spreads and how to protect yourself.

Read More

Flu Center

The flu can make you sick for a week or more. Find out how to get protected from the influenza virus.

Read More

Flu Center

Learn all about protecting your family from the flu and what to do if your child gets flu-like symptoms.

Read More

First Aid: The Flu

Telltale signs of the flu include a sore throat, body aches and fever. Here's what to do if your child has the flu.

Read More

The Flu: Should You Go to School?

Stay home or go to school? That's what you are probably wondering if you have the flu. Find out more.

Read More

Flu Facts

Every year from October to May, millions of people across the United States come down with the flu. Get the facts on the flu - including how to avoid it.

Read More

5 Ways to Fight the Flu

Get tips for fending off the flu in this article for teens.

Read More

Flu

The flu is a virus that can make you sick for a week or longer. Find out more in this article for kids.

Read More

Too Late for the Flu Vaccine?

The flu vaccine is usually offered between September and mid-November. Even though it's best to get it then, being vaccinated later can still help protect against the flu.

Read More

Is It a Cold or the Flu?

The flu usually makes kids feel worse than if they have a cold. But it's not always easy to tell the difference. Here are tips on what to look for — and what to do.

Read More

Is the Flu Vaccine a Good Idea for Your Family?

The flu vaccine is a good idea for all families. It does not cause the flu, and it helps keep kids and parents from getting sick.

Read More

The Flu (Influenza)

Flu symptoms tend to come on quickly and are worse than the sneezing and stuffiness of a cold. The flu is very contagious. Find out what to do in this article for parents.

Read More

The Flu: Stop the Spread

Follow these tips to help prevent the spread of the flu.

Read More

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

Search our entire site.