October is the best month to snap up the annual flu vaccine, as the season starts this month, ramps up worst over the winter holidays, and winds down in March. Health officials are warning that the 2021-2022 flu season could be particularly nasty, as there was no chance for herd immunity last year with most of the populace on COVID-19 lockdown. Saying “boo to the flu” with vaccination is the best chance to avoid the sickness that kills hundreds of children and sends thousands more to the hospital each year. Here are a few answers to your most pressing questions this time of year.
Is it the flu or COVID-19?
One of the first questions you may have is how to tell the difference between coronavirus and the flu. While many of the symptoms in children are similar – like body aches, chills, cough, diarrhea, fatigue, fever, headache, and vomiting – there are a few key differences as well.
It’s likely the flu if:
- Symptoms show up between 1-4 days after contact with a sick person.
- There is rapid onset of symptoms with a fever, cough, and runny nose for several days.
It’s likely COVID-19 if:
- Symptoms show up 2-14 days after contact with a sick person.
- There is a brief fever, congestion, cough, loss of taste and smell, or breathing difficulty.
The only way to know for sure is to take your child in for a Covid test. The best time to test is within 3-5 days of exposure or symptomatic sickness, so don’t delay. While there are home tests you can try, they may not be accurate if your child is asymptomatic or has had symptoms for more than five days, so you’ll most likely need the molecular diagnostic test anyway.
What should I do if my child has the flu?
The worst of a flu typically lasts 2-4 days, although some kids experience fatigue for up to a month. While “taking it easy” doesn’t register for most youngsters, there are several things you can do to reduce the suffering.
- Children’s Tylenol can alleviate fever and pains associated with the flu.
- Water, juice, broth, Pedialyte, and popsicles are great for keeping your child hydrated.
- A tablespoon of honey and cough drops (for ages preschool+) will soothe a cough.
- Showers, humidifiers and saline nose drops work best for stuffy or runny noses.
- The best foods are simple starches like rice, crackers, bread, or noodles.
- Your child will need adequate rest, which means time away from tablets, too.
- Reading, audiobooks, coloring, card games, and crafting can be relaxing activities.
- Shine’s craft bags come with all the supplies your child needs to complete several easy projects and enjoy a little bit of inspired free play as well.
When to return to school after the flu
Conventional wisdom says that children should remain home for 24 hours after the fever subsides (without the help of Tylenol or Motrin). Thermometers aren’t always reliable, so use your intuition and best judgment. If your child feels warm to the touch, looks flushed, huddles under the blanket, or seems lethargic, keep him or her home to rest.
These days, schools may have COVID-19 protocols in place that require your child to get a note from the doctor or a negative Covid test before returning to school. Children who have had COVID-19 should not return to school until it’s been at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared and at least 24 hours without a fever.
When to see a doctor for the flu
Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, blue lips, dehydration, excessive vomiting, muscle pain, stiff neck, lethargy, seizures, and unresponsiveness are all reasons to seek immediate medical attention. Infants who refuse to eat or breathe more rapidly should go in for prompt evaluation. In some cases, kids with MIS-C or RSV present with flu-like symptoms, so you’re not crazy to check in with the doctor, even if the symptoms are mild at first.
Can kids get the flu shot and the COVID vaccine together?
Thousands of COVID-19 vaccines are ready to administer to the 5-12 cohort as soon as the FDA gives the greenlight – possibly as early as the first week of November. Pediatric infectious disease experts agree that it’s safe for kids to receive both the flu shot and the Covid vaccine at the same time or spaced a few weeks apart.