Is it a Cold, the Stomach Bug or Influenza? Know the Signs, Symptoms and Next Steps if Your Child Falls Ill this Flu Season
Runny noses and stuffy noses. Coughing and sneezing. Upset tummies, sore throats, fevers and fatigue. The common cold, the stomach bug and influenza are three very different illnesses that often start out looking very much the same. If your child wakes up feeling unwell or is sent home from school with a cough, sore throat, fever or congestion, how can you tell if it’s just a bug that’s going around—or something more serious? Go through our checklist below and schedule a chat with your child’s healthcare provider!
Does my child have a cold or the flu? The common cold and influenza are both caused by viruses and can look very much the same at first—and it’s so important to know the difference. Both viruses affect your child’s breathing system but colds usually clear up over time and very rarely cause complications. The flu is a bigger cause for concern (especially for children with chronic illnesses, infants and babies) and should be addressed as soon as possible.
Take a look at the symptom chart below to find the most likely culprit for your child’s illness:
|THE FLU||A COLD|
|Did your child get sick:||quickly||slowly|
|Is your child’s fever:||high||mild or nonexistant|
|Does your child have chills?||yes||no|
|Are your child’s head and muscles:||aching||just fine|
|Is your child’s energy level:||exhausted||a little tired|
|Is your child’s appetite:||gone||normal|
I think my child has a cold. What should I do? There is no vaccine that can prevent the common cold and no medicine that can cure it. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter treatments to reduce fever or congestion, but children with colds need plenty of fluids and lots of rest to get back to feeling their best. (Asking your child’s doctor for antibiotics to treat a common cold can be harmful, not helpful.) A cold usually should run its course in three to ten days. To keep your child from spreading their cold to other members of the family or their friends, encourage frequent hand-washing, remind them to cough or sneeze into the crook of their elbow, and keep them home until their symptoms clear up. Continue reading
The flu can be very dangerous—especially for our little ones—so getting a flu shot every year is really important. For kids (or adults!) who don’t like needles, avoiding the flu became a lot easier with the introduction of FluMist, a flu nasal spray. FluMist boosts immunity against the exact same strains of influenza, but it’s delivered as a nasal spray instead of as a shot. This spring, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization announced the results of a study comparing the two vaccines. Children ages two through eight who got the spray instead of the shot were half as likely to get the flu. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) wants parents to know that both the shot and the spray help protect kids from the flu. But which flu vaccine is right for your child?
Both the flu shot and the flu nasal spray protect your family against the same strains of influenza. The flu shot is a proven way to keep kids safe from the flu and can be given to children as young as six months old. The flu nasal spray is only approved for children over the age of two, usually can’t be given to kids with other health issues like asthma, can be harder to find, and might cost more than the shot. But for some kids, it might offer more protection (and a little more comfort and less pain) than the shot.
Vax Maine Kids wants Maine parents to know that both vaccines are safe, effective, and protect children from influenza, which is easy to spread and can be very dangerous for children. The most important thing is for kids to get the influenza vaccine every single year. But if your health care provider gives you a choice of vaccines, which flu vaccine is best for your child?
The flu nasal spray might be best for your child if:
- Your child is between the ages of two and eight.
FluMist is approved for healthy children older than the age of two and healthy adults up to age 49. But the recent study showing the flu nasal spray to be twice as effective at preventing the flu only applies to children between the ages of two and eight. There appears to be no boost in protection outside of this age group. For healthy children in this age group, the CDC thinks the flu nasal spray is a better choice.
- Your child does not have asthma or other health issues.
Children or adults with asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, or a weakened immune system may not be able to get FluMist. Consult with your child’s doctor first.
- Your child isn’t allergic to eggs.
Children with allergies to egg proteins cannot get FluMist. Ask your child’s health care provider about the special flu vaccine just for people with egg allergies!
- Your child is afraid of needles.
As parents, it’s so hard to make your child do something that is good for them if it also scares them. For parents of kids that are truly terrified of shots, the flu nasal spray can make a trip to the doctor much less stressful for everyone involved.
It’s great that Maine parents have two ways to protect their children during flu season! The flu shot and the flu nasal spray are safe, simple, and highly effective ways to prevent children from the dangers of influenza.
Still not sure which one to choose? WebMD has a more detailed breakdown of the differences between the two vaccines, and when in doubt, it’s always best to consult your child’s health care provider with any questions.