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Tips for Treating the Flu


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
Date reviewed: September 2019