Influenza (Flu): What to Do if Your Child Gets Sick

Girl in bed with fever Girl in bed with fever

Influenza​ (the flu) is a respiratory infection that affects the nose, throat and lungs. It is caused by a virus. The flu is more common in the fall and winter. 

If your child is older than six months and is otherwise healthy, keep them home for a few days. Make sure your child gets plenty of rest, stays hydrated and their fever and pain is managed. 

Mild infection, mild symptoms 

Most people who get ill from the flu will only get a mild infection. A mild flu infection may cause the following symptoms: 

  • sudden onset of a high fever 
  • headache 
  • general aches and pains 
  • fatigue and weakness 
  • a runny stuffy nose 
  • a sore throat 
  • a cough 
  • sneezing 

It may take several days to start feeling better. Most of these symptoms usually last for two to seven days. The cough and weakness can last for up to six weeks. This can make exercise and day-to-day activities difficult. 

Treating a mild infection 

If your child has the flu, there are things you can do to make them feel better and avoid spreading the virus to others. Treatment for mild flu infection is focused on the symptoms the person is feeling. It means mainly keeping your child hydrated and comfortable. Try giving frequent small quantities of fluids. This will keep your child hydrated​. Fluids should not contain caffeine. 

If your child has a fever, aches and pains you can give them acetaminophen (Tylenol or Tempra) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin). Do not give ASA​ (acetylsalicylic acid or Aspirin) to a child under 16 years of age. Do not give cough medicines to children under 6 years of age. Always read the label before giving any medicine. 

In addition to fluids and pain medicine, other ways to treat flu symptoms include: 

  • applying heat on painful areas for short periods of time using a hot water bottle or heating pad to reduce muscle pain 
  • taking a warm bath 
  • gargling with a glass of warm water 
  • using saline drops or spray and suction to clear a stuffy nose
  • Keep your home smoke free. 

If the symptoms get worse 

Call your doctor if the above measures do not relieve your child’s flu symptoms and your child feels worse or if you are worried.

Go see a docto​r or to hospital if your baby is less than 3 months old and: 

  • has fast or difficult breathing 
  • has a fever 
  • is vomiting or not feeding 

​​Go see a doctor or to hospital if your child: 

  • is breathing quickly or seems to be working hard to breathe 
  • is much more sleepy than usual, is very fussy and cannot be comforted 
  • is not drinking enough fluids or has not peed at least every six hours when awake 
  • is not feeling better after five days or gets better but then suddenly gets worse 

Call ​911 or go to the nearest emergency department immediately if your child: 

  • has severe trouble breathing and has bluish or dark-coloured lips or skin 
  • is limp, hard to wake up or does not respond 
  • has a stiff neck or a seizure 

If you have any concerns, call your doctor or your local public health agency. In Ontario, you can also call TeleHealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000. 

At the hospital 

If your child needs to stay in hospital they will be placed in a single room. They may be given intravenous fluids, antiviral medicine and antibiotics. Some children may also need oxygen.

To prevent other children and people in the hospital from getting the flu, your child will have to stay in their room. Hospital staff will be wearing a mask, eye protection, gloves and gowns when they visit. Wash your hands often, either with alcohol-based hand rubs, or soap and water, before and after touching your child and before leaving your child's room. Hospital staff should wash their hands as well. 

If you or anyone else who has visited becomes ill with symptoms of the flu, let your child's doctor or nurse know. 

Prevent ​spreading the flu 

The flu vaccine is the best prevention against getting the flu. In Ontario, the vaccine is given free of charge at doctors’ offices, clinics and pharmacies. The vaccine can be given to children more than six months of age. For tips on how to make vaccinations as easy and pain-free as possible, please read the articles, Pain-free injections in babies and Pain-free injections in children over 1 year of age

The flu spreads very easily from an infected person to others through coughing and sneezing. It is also spread by touching objects someone with the flu has touched. Continue good hygiene practices by washing your hands well and often. Keep your hands away from your face because the flu virus enters your body through your eyes, nose and mouth. Keep the surfaces that people touch in your home clean. Cough and sneeze into your arm or sleeve. 

Key point 

  • Most of the time, a flu infection will give mild symptoms. 
  • Keep your child hydrated by giving small amount of fluids but frequently 
  • Treat your child’s fever and pain by giving them acetaminophen (Tylenol, Tempra) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) 
  • The best way to avoid spreading the flu is to get the flu shot, keep away from infected people and regularly wash your hands.​

Reviewed by:

Upton Allen, MBBS, MSc, FRCPC, FAAP

Shawna Silver, MD, FRCPC, FAAP, PEng​​


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Key Facts about Influenza (Flu) & Flu Vaccine. (2013, September 26). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved December 20, 2013.

Protect yourself, your family and your community. (2013, October 31). Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Retrieved December 20, 2013.

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