While influenza can be a serious illness for anyone, it can be especially dangerous for babies. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized each year due to influenza.
Because infants under the age of six months are too young to receive the flu vaccine, they are at a particularly high risk of serious complications related to the flu. Additionally, the immune systems of babies are not fully developed, placing them at a higher risk of flu-related complications. With children this age, the best approach to the flu is to try and avoid it. During cold and flu season, stay away from people who are sick as much as possible, and don’t let infected people touch or hold your baby.
Diagnosis of influenza
There are many non-specific symptoms that can go along with an influenza infection. Call your child’s pediatrician if your baby develops the following symptoms:
- Runny nose
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Decreased appetite
Your child’s doctor may order a nasal swab to determine if these symptoms are caused by the influenza virus. An infant with the flu can develop pneumonia, ear infections, croup and bronchiolitis, which is an infection that occurs within the small breathing tubes of the lungs. Your pediatrician can check for these complications as well.
Influenza treatment for babies
Antiviral medication is an effective treatment option for babies with influenza, with some approved for use in babies as young as two weeks old. Antiviral drugs work by preventing the virus that causes influenza from reproducing within the body. These medications are available in a liquid form so your baby can easily take them. Antiviral medications are most effective when taken within two days of developing flu symptoms. They are typically taken for five days and can lessen the severity of symptoms and shorten the duration of influenza.
Reviewed by Dr. Kristie Rivers, November 2018
- Babies under the age of six months are the most likely to develop severe complications from influenza.
- Since the immune systems of babies have not fully developed and they are too young to receive the vaccine, they are at a higher risk of flu-related complications.
- Contact your pediatrician if your baby develops a fever, cough, runny nose, vomiting, or diarrhea.
- Antiviral medications are an effective treatment for babies with influenza.