Five things parents should know about the flu

This year’s flu season has arrived earlier than normal. Do you know the important prevention and treatment information necessary to keep your child healthy? University of Michigan pediatrician Heather Burrows, MD, PhD, is here to answer a few questions about how to keep the flu bug at bay.

What signs and symptoms of the flu should parents be aware of?

Symptoms of influenza include a high fever, cough, often times a runny nose as well as body aches and fatigue. The difference between influenza and the common cold is usually the severity of the symptoms. Kids with influenza have higher fevers and are more fussy and tired.

When a child does have the flu, is there anything that can be done to stop it from escalating?

Unfortunately, once a child has the flu, there’s not much you can do to preempt it anymore. You can, however, make sure that your child is as comfortable as possible while they’re sick. Make sure they’re drinking fluids – and really any fluid that they’ll drink is fine. Popsicles are great, because they’re like a fluid, and many children prefer them over an actual drink. Of course, medicines like acetaminophen or ibuprofen help keep their fever down and limit body aches. For kids who are at least 1 year old, having a bit of honey can help limit a cough.

Should parents take their child to the emergency room or a clinic? What’s the difference?

If there are signs of a more serious infection, you might consider taking your child to the ER. Dehydration, with symptoms like no urination for six hours, crying with no tears or a dry tongue, can be an indication of a more serious illness. Similarly, respiratory distress, like fast or labored breathing, is another sign of serious infection. Outside of symptoms, the time of day you’re taking child in can affect where you’re taking them. Obviously, if it’s after hours, you’ll want to head to the ER. If you call your pediatrician’s office, we can help you make that decision.

What’s the best way to prevent a child from getting the flu, especially for kids in daycare?

The first thing is to make sure your child is immunized early in the season. It’s a good idea to check in with your daycare provider to make sure that not only the children washing their hands, but so too are the caregivers. Another idea is when you get your child home from daycare, change their shirt. During the day, shirts can become the next best thing to a tissue, so changing a shirt is a smart move. Finally, make sure everyone in the house is washing their hands frequently.

What’s the difference between the flu and norovirus, which is also going around now? What are the symptoms and treatments?

Norovirus is a stomach virus that causes nausea, diarrhea and sometimes vomiting. Treatment includes drinking clear liquids – things like Pedialyte, not flat soda – and resuming a regular diet when possible. When kids are vomiting, giving them small amounts of liquid very often (like 1 teaspoon every 5minutes) can keep them from getting dehydrated, and out of the ER. You hear a lot about the BRAT (bananas, rice, apple sauce and toast) diet being a good way to treat stomach viruses, but it’s actually not as helpful as returning to a regular diet as soon as possible.


heather burrows mdHeather Burrows, MD, PhD, is a pediatrician at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.  Dr. Burrows sees patients at our East Ann Arbor clinic.  Watch Dr. Burrows’ video bio.




Best-Hospitals-mediumUniversity of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” including #4 in the country for heart and heart surgery. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.