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The following information is provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics and more information can be found at www.healthychildren.org.

How Sick is Too Sick?

When children are healthy, they can go to child care or school, and parents can go to work. Getting the flu vaccine is the best way to make sure everyone can continue to participate in these important activities. However, when a child feels too sick to participate in activities, or requires care beyond what the caregivers can provide without compromising their ability to care for other children, that child will need to stay home.  If your child is very sick, or at high risk for serious flu complications, you should talk to your pediatrician about use of antiviral medications.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that you keep your child home for 24 hours after flu-like symptoms disappear.

The Flu

Flu is the short term for influenza. It is an illness caused by a respiratory virus. The infection can spread rapidly through communities as the virus is passed person to person. When someone with the flu coughs or sneezes, the influenza virus gets into the air, and people nearby, including children, can inhale it. The virus also can be spread when your child touches a contaminated hard surface, such as a door handle, and then places his hand or fingers in his nose/mouth or rubs his eye.  The virus usually is transmitted in the first several days of the illness.

Flu Symptoms

All flu viruses cause a respiratory illness that can last a week or more. Flu symptoms include:

  • A fever (above 100.4°F)
  • Chills and body shakes
  • Headache, body aches, and being a lot more tired than usual
  • Sore throat
  • Dry, hacking cough
  • Stuffy, runny nose
  • Some children may throw up (vomit) and have loose stools (diarrhea).

After the first few days of these symptoms, a sore throat, stuffy nose, and continuing cough become most evident. The flu can last a week or even longer.

A child with a common cold usually has only a low-grade fever, a runny nose, and only a small amount of coughing. Children with the flu—or adults, for that matter—usually feel much sicker, achier, and more miserable.

Healthy people, especially children, get over the flu in about a week or two, without any lingering problems. However, you might suspect a complication if your child says that his ear hurts or that he feels pressure in his face and head or if his cough and fever will not go away, talk with your child's doctor.  

Flu Treatment

For all children who don't feel well with the flu, lots of loving care is in order. Children may benefit from extra rest and drinking lots of fluids.

If your child is uncomfortable because of a fever, medication recommended by your pediatrician for her age and weight will help her feel better.  

Hand Washing

Making it Habit

As early as possible, get your child into the habit of washing her hands often and thoroughly. All day long, your child is exposed to bacteria and viruses—when touching a playmate, sharing toys, or petting the cat. Once her hands pick up these germs, she can quickly infect herself by:

  • Rubbing her eyes
  • Touching her nose
  • Placing her fingers in her mouth.

The whole process can happen in seconds, and cause an infection that can last for days, weeks, or even longer.

When to Wash

Hand washing can stop the spread of infection. The key is to encourage your child to wash her hands throughout the day. For example, help her or remind her to wash her hands:  

  • Before eating (including snacks)  
  • After a trip to the bathroom  
  • Whenever she comes in from playing outdoors  
  • After touching an animal like a family pet  
  • After sneezing or coughing if she covers her mouth  
  • When someone in the household is ill

Steps to Proper Hand Washing

So what does a thorough hand washing involve? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following steps:  

  • Wet your child’s hands.  
  • Apply liquid soap to the hands.
  • Rub the hands vigorously together. Scrub every surface completely.  
  • Keep rubbing and scrubbing for 20 seconds to effectively remove the germs.  
  • Rinse the hands completely, then dry them.