In this section
Influenza, commonly called the 'flu, is an
infection caused by influenza A or B viruses. It mainly affects the
nose, throat and lungs, although it can involve other parts of the
body. In healthy children it is much like a bad cold, however
influenza can cause more serious illness in very young children and
those with chronic medical conditions.
Influenza occurs mainly during the winter
months. Each year infections are caused by slightly different
strains of the virus. Occasionally one of these strains can cause a
more widespread or severe outbreak, similar to the 2009 H1N1
Influenza usually begins with a sudden onset
of fever and at least two or three of the following symptoms:
Influenza can be more serious in children with
chronic medical conditions including:
Warning signs of severe
illness include poor feeding, dehydration and difficulty
Most children recover within seven days
without any treatment. Ensure your child has plenty of bed rest,
encourage them to drink lots of fluids and use paracetamol for pain
or discomfort. Do not give aspirin to your child if they have
influenza as this can lead to serious side effects.
Antibiotics are not helpful for influenza and
will not be prescribed unless your child also has a bacterial
infection. Antiviral medications (such as Tamiflu) are not
given to children who have influenza and who are otherwise fit and
healthy. This is because they do not usually make a difference to
the duration of the illness.
If your child has any warning signs of
severe illness or is at risk of severe
illness, seek urgent medical advice.
Influenza is very infectious. It can spread
through the air by coughing and sneezing and by touching objects
that have been in contact with an infected person's mouth or
nose. A person with influenza is contagious from the day
before symptoms begin until a few days after.
The best way to prevent influenza is the
influenza vaccine (see below).
Good hygiene habits can also reduce the chance
of getting influenza or passing it to others. These
The influenza vaccine can be given to any
child over six months of age to reduce the chance of becoming
sick with influenza. Vaccination is voluntary, but vaccination is encouraged for everyone.
If your child has a chronic medical condition,
it is strongly recommended that they have an annual
influenza vaccination. All household members should also be
vaccinated to decrease the chances of your child being exposed to
Because the influenza virus changes (or mutates) slightly from year to year, your child will need a new
and updated influenza vaccine at the beginning of each influenza
Side effects of the vaccine include pain and
redness at the site of injection. Less commonly, children may
develop fever or aches and pains which last one to two days. The
vaccine cannot cause influenza as it contains killed or inactivated
While the current trivalent influenza
vaccines (TIV) are made in egg embryos, there are now several
published studies demonstrating the safety of influenza vaccines in
egg allergic patients. Children with an egg allergy who
are recommended to have the TIV should be referred to a specialist
clinic for discussion. In Victoria, visit www.saefvic.org.au or
call the RCH (03) 9345 4143 for more information.
Developed by RCH General
Medicine and Emergency Department. First published Aug 2007.
Updated April 2011.