Flu Symptoms in Kids: How Parents can Differentiate from the Flu, COVID or a Cold

Flu Symptoms in Kids and What Parents Need to Know if it is the Flu vs. COVID vs. a Cold
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Flu Symptoms in Kids: How Parents can Differentiate from the Flu, COVID or a Cold

With flu season upon us, viruses and early cases of respiratory illnesses on a constant news loop, it’s not hard to wonder when your child has a cold and when it is more.

To make matters worse, seasonal influenza activity continues to increase in most parts of the country. As a parent, here’s what you need to know about this year’s flu season and what you can do to help keep your kids flu-free. Here are some tips on what is what when it comes to colds, flu, and Covid.

But first the flu. The CDC estimates that there have been at least 1.8 million illnesses, 17,000 hospitalizations, and 1,100 deaths from flu so far this season. 

“At the moment, the flu season is in high gear,” Samir Undavia, MD, attending physician, NJ ENT & Facial Plastic Surgery in Marlton, NJ, said, adding that the CDC numbers include both children and adults.  

But to put things into a clearer perspective, this year’s flu season isn’t too different from last year’s.

“Parents should expect a similar flu season to last year, which included approximately 11,000 medical visits per 100,000 kids and 119 hospitalizations per 100,000 kids,” Undavia said. 

Over 80 percent of severe disease were unvaccinated children, Undavia added. 

In New York during this flu season, cases are rising, but right now, the rates are still lower than around this time last year, according to the state health department. 

Flu Season: Symptoms of Flu in Kids 
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Symptoms of Flu in Kids 

As anyone who’s had the flu can attest, having it at any age is brutal. Lots of rest and drinking plenty of fluids can help a lot. 

Symptoms of the flu in children and adults usually include fever, chills, muscle and body aches, fatigue, headaches, cough, sore throat, and a runny nose. 

But there are a few differences in symptoms between children and adults, explained Flora Sinha, MD, internal medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Group. 

“Gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are also common, although these symptoms are seen more in children versus adults. Children may also have higher fevers,” Sinha said. 

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When to See a Doctor

At this point, you might be wondering: The flu is often treated at home. At what point should I bring my child to the doctor?

“Parents should bring their child to a doctor if they have complications from the flu, such as ear pain and pressure, shortness of breath, severe fatigue without oral intake of liquids and food, or if the symptoms persist for longer than the flu should last, which is over 10-14 days,” explained Undavia. 

Sinha added that temperature and fever play a big role in when to bring your child to the pediatrician. 

“For very young babies–younger than 3 months–you’ll want to see your pediatrician if your child has a rectal fever of 100.4 or higher immediately,” Shinha explained. “For healthy adults and children 3 years of age and up we look for a fever that is higher than 104F and/or that won’t respond to fever reducing medications or lasts longer than 72 hours. If your child is extremely fatigued, looking lethargic, you may also bring them in.”

Psst…check out our Expert College Tour Tips and Do’s and Don’ts for Parents

One of the best ways for kids and adults to prevent the spread of the flu includes washing hands often

Preventing the Flu

Not surprising, some of the best ways for kids and adults to prevent the spread of the flu are pretty simple. It’s basically what you’d expect to do when trying to prevent other respiratory illnesses, including:

  • Washing hands often
  • Avoiding close contact with sick people. When you’re sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick. 
  • Covering coughs and sneezes
  • Staying home if you’re sick

 

The Flu vs. COVID vs. a Cold: Which is it?
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The Flu vs. COVID vs. a Cold: Which is it?

Your child comes home from school and isn’t feel well. Is it a cold? A Covid test reads negative, okay its the flu or is it? Needless to say, differentiating between these three respiratory illnesses can be quite difficult. Without a lab test confirming the diagnosis, identifying which illness is present can be challenging, Undavia said. 

But in general, colds are more mild, while the flu and COVID can be more severe. 

Jenean White, MD, a family medicine physician, shared some general symptoms to look if you’re trying to identify which illness is present:

FEVER Commonly present in all except cold; more sudden onset with flu
COUGH Present in all; mild to moderate with a cold
HEADACHE Rare in cold; common in flu; sometimes with COVID
CHILLS Rare in cold; sometimes in COVID and flu
FATIGUE Rare in cold; common in COVID and flu
RUNNY or STUFFY NOSE Common with cold; sometimes with COVID and flu
SHORTNESS OF BREATH Rare in flu and cold; sometimes in COVID

 

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