Influenza (commonly known as the flu) is a highly contagious respiratory virus that is present year-round, but circulates widely in the fall and winter months, or cold and flu season. The flu causes cold-like symptoms that often come on suddenly and can range from mild to severe. Children under the age of 2, adults over age 65, pregnant and postpartum women, people taking certain medications and those with chronic medical conditions, including lung or heart conditions, can develop severe or life-threatening complications from the flu.
Some of the primary symptoms of the flu overlap with symptoms of COVID-19, making it difficult to distinguish between the two illnesses. Fortunately, the accessibility of at-home COVID-19 tests can make it easy to determine if an individual is infected with COVID. If an individual is at high-risk for severe disease or would qualify for treatment, a flu test may also be recommended.
What are flu symptoms in kids?
Influenza symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Nausea or vomiting
Is the flu a concern this year?
Yes, the flu is always a concern, especially for those who are at a higher risk of severe disease from the virus, such as young infants, those who are immunocompromised or older adults. While it can be difficult to predict how severe the flu season will be, Dr. Dominguez says that there is evidence to suggest that the 2023-24 flu season will be “average.” This is welcome news after a cold and flu season that was longer and more severe than normal in 2022-23.
Should my family get the flu vaccine?
Yes, the best way to prevent the flu is for every adult and child over 6 months old to get the influenza vaccine as soon as cold and flu season begins, usually around the beginning of September. “Everyone should get a flu shot every year,” says Dr. Dominguez. “Not only does it reduce your chances of getting the flu, but if you do get it, your symptoms will likely be less severe.” The flu shot is also very effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death, Dr. Dominguez adds.
Many health insurers, including Medicaid and Medicare, cover the full cost of the flu shot. But even if you don’t have insurance, you can find low-cost or no-cost flu vaccines. Ask your pediatrician or healthcare provider for more information or find a flu clinic in Colorado.
RSV in kids
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common, cold-like infection that hits most kids before they turn 2. Though RSV typically circulates in the winter months, it’s made some unseasonal comebacks during the pandemic. In the fall and winter of 2022, children’s hospitals around the country saw a surge in RSV, straining emergency rooms and hospitals.
For healthy children, RSV can be similar to a cold. But infants or immunocompromised children are at risk of complications from the virus, such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, RSV is the most common cause of hospitalization for children under the age of one. While it is possible to get RSV multiple times, even within the same season, secondary infections are often less severe.
What are RSV symptoms in kids?
Call your pediatrician when you notice these symptoms of RSV:
- High fever and ill appearance (though not all children with RSV experience fever)
- Thick nasal discharge
- Worsening cough
- A cough with discolored mucus
- Signs of dehydration
- Signs they’re having trouble breathing: Look for short, rapid and shallow breaths or retractions, where the chest caves in and the belly expands with each breath
- Unusual irritability or inactivity
- Refusing to nurse or bottle feed
If your child is struggling to breathe, seek out emergency care.
What treatments or vaccines are available for RSV?
Most children recover quickly from RSV with at-home treatment, such as fever-reducing medication, nasal suction and plenty of fluids. In severe cases, RSV may require treatment in the hospital, so the child can receive oxygen and intravenous (IV) fluids.
Previously, there was only one monoclonal antibody shot available to prevent RSV in high-risk babies under 2 years old, palivizumab. The injection is given once a month during cold and flu season. But in the summer of 2023, the FDA approved nirsevimab, another monoclonal antibody injection that can be given to all babies and high-risk toddlers, as well as Abrysvo, a vaccine that can be administered during the third trimester of pregnancy to protect infants against RSV for up to six months. While these options are currently available in limited supplies, they represent a promising step in preventing severe RSV infections in babies and toddlers.