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Influenza (Children)

What is Influenza

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a highly contagious viral infection often affecting the nose, throat and lungs. It can sometimes involve multiple body systems and lead to severe illness, especially in young children and the elderly.

Certain children, such as those who are very young, have asthma, underlying heart or neurological conditions, or weakened immune systems, are at higher risk for complications like pneumonia, brain or heart inflammation, exacerbation of chronic health issues and severe systemic effects, potentially leading to serious illness or death.

Causes of Influenza

The influenza virus, capable of rapid mutation and seasonal strain variation, causes infleunza. It spreads through tiny droplets with infected individuals cough, sneeze or talk, and can be contagious up to one day before symptoms appear. The virus also spreads through contact with contaminated surfaces like doorknobs and phones. 

Influenza occurs year-round in Singapore, with two peak seasons, aligning with winter in the Northern (December to February) and Southern (May to July) Hemispheres. Occasionally, influenza pandemics, such as the avian flu (H5N1) in 1997 and swine flu (H1N1) in 2009, cause widespread severe illness globally. 

Signs and Symptoms Of Influenza

Influenza symptoms range from mild to severe, including: 

  • High fever lasting three to seven days
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Diarrhoea and vomiting

These symptoms, similar to other respiratory virus infections, are usually self-limiting and often do not require any specific medical treatment. 

Diagnosis and Treatment Options for Influenza

Effective management of influenza in children involves ensuring adequate hydration and monitoring for signs of serious illness. Adequate rest and fluid intake are important for recovery. Most children recover within one to two weeks without complications.

Symptomatic treatment, such as medication for fever, sore throat, runny nose and cough, can alleviate discomfort but generally does not change the illness's course or recovery time.

A small subset of high-risk children may benefit from antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir if administered early in the illness. These medications are most when started within the first two days of symptoms onset and may reduce severity and duration. Their utility in otherwise healthy children is limited. The decision to use such medications will be made by the healthcare provider based on individual assessment. 

Tips For Taking Care Of Children With Influenza

In cases of flu-like symptoms, it is advisable to keep the child at home, minimise contact with others and consult a healthcare provider. The provider will determine the necessity of testing or treatment. 

When to seek emergency care

Immediate medical attention at the Children's Emergency should be sought if the child shows any of the following symptoms:
  • Difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Decreased or no movement
  • Lethargy
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