HCN News & Notes

Your Child Has the Flu — What Should You Do?

SPRINGFIELD — The flu has arrived, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Massachusetts is seeing high flu activity.

As a testament to that fact, pediatrician offices, including at Baystate Children’s Hospital, are receiving high volumes of calls from parents and caregivers looking for care advice and questioning whether they should bring their child in to be seen by the doctor.

Influenza has always been a significant illness in children. Kids under 5; kids with asthma; and children with serious underlying pulmonary, cardiac, neurologic, or immune-system illnesses are at particular risk for a serious influenza infection.

“If you have a sick child with flu-like symptoms, it is not always easy to tell when they may need medical care,” said Dr. Chrystal Wittcopp, medical director of General Pediatrics at Baystate Children’s Hospital. “Knowing which flu symptoms are more serious can help you know when to take your child to the doctor. Most healthy children may be treated at home with fluids and fever-reducing medicines that don’t contain aspirin. Flu-like symptoms, including fever, can often last five to seven days.”

Common flu symptoms in kids that can often be treated at home include fever, chills, headache, runny nose, cough, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, and sore throat.

More serious symptoms requiring a call to a pediatrician and a visit to the doctor include any fever over 100.4 in an infant under 3 months old; symptoms in a child with a chronic medical condition; fever that does not respond to fluids, rest, and fever-reducing medications, or that lasts longer than five days; extreme fatigue; headache that does not go away; wheezing; vomiting and/or signs of dehydration (decreased urination or decreased tears when crying); back pain; weak legs or feet; severe muscle pain; or red urine.

Still, Wittcopp noted, there are times when a visit to the Emergency Department might be required, such as when a child is experiencing signs of inconsolable irritability, labored breathing and a persistent cough, neck stiffness, or confusion.

“If you are still in doubt, you know your child best,” she said. “If your child’s symptoms are severe, or if you are concerned, it’s best to seek care from your child’s primary-care physician.”