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Ah-CHOO! Is it the flu?

It’s that time of year again - flu season. With children spending more time indoors due to the cold, germs and viruses spread more quickly. But, how do you know if your child has a cold – or something more serious like the flu?

What is the flu really?

Influenza (‘flu’) is a contagious disease that is spread through close contact. Anyone can get the flu, but the risk is highest among children. The flu is a serious disease, causing hospitalizations and even death each year.

Flu vs. Cold – How can I tell the difference?

Symptoms are different from that of the common cold. If diagnosed early – within 2 days – some treatments may be available which lessen the symptoms and can prevent serious complications like pneumonia. This chart may help you decide:

Cold symptoms Flu symptoms
Low or no fever High fever (but not always)
Sometimes a headache Always a headache
Stuffy, runny nose Clear nose or stuffy nose
Sneezing Sometimes sneezing
Mild, hacking cough Cough, often becoming severe
Slight aches and pains Often severe aches and pains
Mild fatigue Several weeks of fatigue
Sore throat Sometimes a sore throat
Normal energy level Extreme exhaustion


How can I prevent the flu?

The flu vaccine is recommended for children over the age of 6 months (consult your physician for recommendations for your child). 

Ages 6 months and older:
An inactive vaccine, delivered as an injection. (multiple injections may be warranted for some children). A nasal spray has been available in past years, however, it was not found to be effective against the flu and  it is no longer recommended. 

If you have family members with special health conditions - the elderly, chronic disease, pregnant, young child, some medicines (such as Tamiflu®) may be prescribed as a preventative if they are exposed to the flu. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has expanded information on anti-viral drugs used to fight the flu.

What if my child is sick?

The flu causes more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 to be hospitalized each year. There are symptoms which may indicate your child needs immediate medical attention:

  • Fast or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash 

In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs:

  • Being unable to eat
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Has no tears when crying
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

Flu season

Each year the flu viruses which are predominent change. The influenza vaccinations attempt to immunize against the strain researchers feel will appear. Most frequent flu virus strains this season are Influenza A and Influenza A (H1N1). This year's flu vaccine targets these viruses.  

It takes about 2 weeks for the antibodies to develop and provide protection following the flu vaccination. Anyone who has not gotten vaccinated yet this season should do so now.


Margo Anderson-Fowler, MD

Dr. Anderson-Fowler enjoys caring for patients of all ages. She has a special interest in the Mind/Body/Spirit connection for health. She tries to understand her patients' family dynamics and how this may affect their health. She feels a physician should be totally engaged with the patient and see him or her as an individual. She believes every person just wants to be heard so she listens carefully to her patients' concerns and tries to offer them the best care possible so they can reach thei ...

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