Influenza (flu) and your baby
- The flu can be dangerous for all babies, even healthy babies.
Babies younger than 6 months shouldn’t get a flu shot. Parents and other family members need a flu shot to help protect young babies from the flu.
Babies 6 months and older need a flu shot every year.
If you think your baby has the flu, call her provider right away. Quick treatment can help prevent serious flu complications.
What is the flu?
Influenza (also called flu) is a serious disease. It’s more than just a runny nose and sore throat. The flu can make a baby very sick. In rare cases, it can be deadly. It’s really important to protect babies and young children from the flu.
How does the flu spread?
The flu spreads easily from person to person. When someone with the flu coughs, sneezes or speaks, the virus spreads through the air. Your baby can get infected with the flu if she breathes the virus in or if she touches something (like a toy) that has the flu virus on it and then touches her nose, eyes or mouth.
Does your baby need a flu shot?
Yes. The best way to protect your baby from the flu is to make sure he gets a flu shot each year before flu season (October through May). Even though your baby’s more likely to get the flu during flu season, he can get it any time of year. The flu shot contains a vaccine that helps prevent your baby from getting the flu.
Children 6 months and older can get the flu shot. Your baby gets two flu shots in his first year life. He then gets one shot each year after.
The flu shot is safe for most children. But check with his provider if your baby had a reaction to the flu vaccine in the past. His provider may want to watch him closely after getting the shot to check for a reaction. If your child is allergic to eggs, talk to his provider to decide if it’s OK to get the flu shot.
There are many different flu viruses, and they’re always changing. Each year a new flu vaccine is made to protect against three or four flu viruses that are likely to make people sick during the upcoming flu season. Protection from the flu shot only lasts about a year, so it’s important that your baby gets vaccinated every year. Your baby’s provider can give the shot, and many pharmacies and other places offer it each fall. Use the HealthMap Vaccine Finder to find out where you can get a flu shot for your baby.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that everyone 6 months and older get the flu shot each year. It’s especially important for children younger than 5 to get the flu shot because they’re more likely than older kids to have serious health problems caused by the flu. The flu can be dangerous for all children, even healthy children.
What are signs and symptoms that your baby has the flu?
Signs of a condition are things someone else can see or know about you, like you have a rash or you’re coughing. Symptoms are things you feel yourself that others can’t see, like having a sore throat or feeling dizzy. Your baby may have the flu if she has any of these signs or symptoms:
- Being very tired
- Cough that's loud or dry and doesn't go away, or sore throat
- Fever (usually above 101 F), chills or body shakes
- Headache or muscle or body aches
- Not being hungry
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Vomiting (throwing up) and diarrhea
Fever and most other signs and symptoms can last a week or longer. While your baby can’t tell you how she’s feeling, babies who have the flu are usually sicker, fussier and appear more uncomfortable and unhappy than babies with a common cold. If you think your baby has the flu even if she got the flu shot, call her health care provider.
Call your baby’s provider right away if she has any of these signs or symptoms:
- Being so fussy that she doesn’t want to be held
- Bluish skin color
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Fever with a rash
- Flu symptoms that improve but return with fever and worse cough
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or not interacting with you
How is flu treated?
Your baby’s provider may prescribe an antiviral medicine to prevent or treat the flu. An antiviral is a medicine that kills infections caused by viruses. Antivirals can make your baby’s flu milder and help your baby feel better faster. Antivirals also can help prevent serious flu complications, like a lung infection called pneumonia. For flu, antivirals work best if used within 2 days of having signs or symptoms.
If your baby is at high risk for flu, his provider may prescribe an antiviral as soon as he begins to have flu symptoms. All children younger than 5 are at high risk for flu, especially children younger than 2. Children who were born prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or who have chronic health conditions, like asthma or sickle cell disease, also are at high risk.
Two medicines are approved in the United States for preventing or treating the flu in children:
- Oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) for children as young as 2 weeks
- Zanamivir (Relenza®) for children older than 5. This medicine is a powder that you breathe in by mouth. It isn’t recommended for people with breathing problems, like asthma.
If your child has the flu, help him get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids. He may not want to eat much. Try giving him small meals to help his body get better.
If your baby seems uncomfortable from a fever, ask her provider if you can give her infant’s or children’s acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Motrin® or Advil®). Don’t give her aspirin without checking with her health care provider. Aspirin can cause a rare but life-threatening liver disorder called Reye syndrome in children with certain illnesses, such as colds, the flu and chickenpox. If your baby has a cough or a cold, don’t give her over-the-counter cough and cold medicine. These are medicines you can buy without a prescription from a health care provider. The American Academy of Pediatrics says these medicines can cause serious health problems for children. Talk to your baby’s provider before you give your baby any kind of medicine.
How can you and your baby keep from spreading the flu?
Everyone 6 months and older needs to get a flu shot. This means you, especially if you have or take care of a baby younger than 6 months. Getting a flu shot can help keep you from spreading the flu.
If you or your baby has the flu, you can spread it to others. Here’s how to help prevent the flu from spreading:
- Don’t kiss your baby on or around the mouth. But a hug is a good thing!
- Teach your child to cough or sneeze into a tissue or his arm. Throw used tissues in the trash.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before and after caring for your baby. You also can use alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Use enough hand sanitizer so that it takes at least 15 seconds for your hands to dry.
- Use hot, soapy water or a dishwasher to clean your baby’s dishes and utensils.
- Don’t share any of your baby’s dishes, glasses, utensils or his toothbrush.
- Limit your baby’s contact with other people.
Last reviewed: October, 2017