25 October 2018

Autumn is here, bringing with it all its glorious colours and falling temperatures, along with the first cases of influenza, more commonly known as ‘the flu’. Children are among those who tend to catch bugs more easily, especially at daycare or at school, where they are more likely to come into contact with other children who have already been infected. The flu is an airborne virus, transmitted through contact with tiny drops of saliva which are emitted when an infected person coughs, sneezes and speaks. The virus is highly infectious, above all in the 24 hours before the first symptoms begin to present. On the other hand, the incubation period is quite short, generally between 1-3 days.




The first signs of the flu are a sudden high temperature, shivering, headache, feeling tired, muscle ache and a dry cough. Later symptoms include a sore throat, feeling cold, a more intense cough, often accompanied by stomach ache, nausea and vomiting. The fever lasts for 4-5 days and, usually, it’s high enough for parents to become worried, especially when complications such as pneumonia, myositis (inflammation of the muscles) and central nervous system disordersarise.



A few simple preventative measures can help. First of all I would recommend washing your hands often, and choosing a healthy diet which is rich in fresh fruit. Another tip is to drink water regularly while hot drinks provide a natural mucolytic effect, and to keep the airways clear by getting your child to blow their nose regularly, making sure they wipe it well. The relative humidity of rooms where children spend time, or sleep, should be between 40 and 60% in order to prevent drying of the mucous membranes and subsequent inflammation which facilitates the virus taking hold.

The composition of the vaccine is periodically changed according to the influenza strains identified as being responsible for the next epidemic, with protection lasting approximately 6-8 months. This is why the vaccination should be repeated every year.
Children are given vaccines that are weakened forms of the flu virus consisting of deactivated virus which has been purified and has the advantage of having a low risk of significant undesirable effects.

“There is no need to worry, however, as there is a vaccination available which can help to protect against getting the flu!”

Flu vaccines are quite effective (they protect about 80% of vaccinated individuals) and safe, with only minor side effects such as pain, redness, swelling, hardness around the area where the vaccine was injected and, more rarely, within 48 hours, slight general discomfort such as tiredness, fever, muscle and joint pain. Only very rarely do allergic reactions occur.

For little ones, it is important to ensure an annual vaccination is given to children older than 6 months who have one or more of the following conditions (higher risk of complications):


  • asthma or other chronic lung ailments;
  • serious heart problems;
  • immune deficiency disorders;
  • neoplasms;
  • congenital anaemia;
  • illnesses which require long term treatment with acetylsalicylic acid, or prescription medicines which lower the natural immune defences;
  • diabetes;
  • chronic kidney disease.


The vaccine is also recommended for family members and those in close contact with high-risk children. If your child suffers from one of the above conditions, ask your doctor if your child is eligible for a free flu jab.
The flu vaccine is still recommended for children without major health issues, especially if, for various reasons, the family would find it difficult to look after a little one who has been infected. Remember that the vaccine is available in pharmacies, and from your family doctor, from the end of October and must be stored in a refrigerator at a temperature between +2°C and +8°C.
In any case, it is advisable to contact your paediatrician for more specific advice regarding the flu vaccine as they know your child’s health and the social environments they frequent.

“The flu is a virus, therefore there are no specific treatments available!”




It is important to ensure children are well-hydrated by regularly offering them water, tea, or camomile with a little sugar, to drink in small sips and whenever they feel thirsty. Do not overdress them, or put on too many covers in bed as the body needs to breath and disperse heat. Meals should be small and easily digestible. Do not force your child to eat, if they have no appetite.

Fever reducing medication should be administered if the fever is the result of a more serious illness, taking paracetamol as a first-use medication. You can decide which form is best for your child. For example, it can be given as a syrup, whose dose in ml is equal to half the weight of the child (e.g.: a child who weighs 15 kg will be given 7.5 ml of syrup every 6 hours, approximately). Otherwise, you may decide powder form is more appropriate or, if you have older children, pill form may be the right solution. Suppositories, which are less effective and slower acting, are only used in cases where the child has trouble keeping food down, or refuses to take medicine by mouth. You can also choose ibuprofen which combines the anti-inflammatory action with the anti-inflammatory action, provided their stomach is full (if taken on an empty stomach, it can cause gastric problems).
Children over 12 years of age who get the flu can get some benefit from antiviral medication (zanamivir) which, taken when the first flu symptoms present, seems to reduce the duration of the illness.
I would recommend your child only returns to school once 48 hours have passed since they have had a fever.