Influenza Type A Symptoms in Children

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It’s difficult to watch your child suffer through a virus, especially when you think it could be the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza A viruses are often linked to more severe illnesses in some groups of people, including children. Kathryn Kaufman, MD, UnityPoint Health, helps identify influenza type A symptoms in children, ways to treat the symptoms and how long it can take to kick the virus.

What are Influenza Type A Symptoms in Children?

Dr. Kaufman says there are two main keys for identifying any type of the flu in children. First is the sudden onset of symptoms.

“Your child will go from feeling fine to crummy very quickly. The symptoms include fever, headache, congestion, sore throat, cough, fatigue and body aches, including abdominal discomfort,” Dr. Kaufman says. “Some children will also experience vomiting.”

The second main identifier of the flu is a temperature. Dr. Kaufman says if your child doesn’t have a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, influenza is unlikely.

“Your child might not experience all the flu symptoms, but rather, he/she might have any combination of symptoms with fever, such as fever and cough or fever and body aches,” Dr. Kaufman says.

Dr. Kaufman says influenza type A can last up to 10 to 14 days.

How Do the Flu Shot and Influenza A Match?

It’s important to remember the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu. But, if the flu strain in circulation doesn’t match the strain covered by the vaccine, there's a chance your child could still get the flu, even after getting the shot. There are still perks to getting the vaccine though.

“The possible symptoms are the same, but they'll likely be less severe in someone who’s been immunized. Also, the vaccine may reduce the amount of time your child suffers from the symptoms,” Dr. Kaufman says.

Is Influenza Type A Contagious?

The short answer is yes, but Dr. Kaufman explains why it’s so contagious.

“Influenza is spread through inhaling droplets from a sneeze or cough of someone with influenza or from touching something or someone with the virus on it, like a doorknob or tissue, and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. A recent study also showed the live influenza virus can be in small drops in the air, simply from an infected person exhaling. This study didn't show if someone has been infected from being exposed to these small droplets,” Dr. Kaufman says.

In general, it’s best to encourage children to frequently wash their hands, cover their sneezes or coughs and discourage them from touching their eyes, nose and mouth. She knows it’s hard, but Dr. Kaufman says to try to keep kids away from those who are ill. However, if you know your child has been exposed to the virus, she offers this advice.

“If they're under five years old or have any chronic health issues, such as asthma, heart disease, morbid obesity, metabolic diseases, developmental delay, seizures, cerebral palsy or cystic fibrosis, contact their provider to ask for recommendations,” Dr. Kaufman says.

How Long is Influenza Type A Contagious?

Dr. Kaufman says kids are contagious 1-2 days before showing any symptoms and up to two weeks after symptoms begin.

“It’s usually safe to send kids back to school or daycare once they go 24 hours without a fever, without a fever-reducing medication, like Tylenol or ibuprofen. A fever is defined as 100.4-degree Fahrenheit or higher,” Dr. Kaufman says.

How Do Doctors Test for the Flu?

Dr. Kaufman says most often providers will test for the flu by swabbing the inside of the nostrils.

“Some children tolerate it without issues, but some find it uncomfortable. The rapid influenza test takes about 15 minutes for results. Another test is available to test for multiple viruses, including influenza, but it takes several hours for results,” Dr. Kaufman says.

Flu tests aren’t always administered. Dr. Kaufman says sometimes there's no benefit to performing the test, if the results won’t change the treatment of the illness.

“The provider will make the determination by weighing the likelihood of influenza infection and the severity and duration of symptoms,” Dr. Kaufman says.

How to Treat Influenza A at Home?

“You may give children acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen for fever and pain. Ibuprofen should not be given until a child is six months or older,” Dr. Kaufman says.

Additional at-home remedies from Dr. Kaufman:

  • Put a cool-mist humidifier in the child’s room
  • Give lukewarm water or lukewarm apple juice (5-15 ml, up to four times per day for children 3 months to 1 year)
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of honey can help a cough (ONLY for children over 1 year of age). Try adding the honey to lukewarm water with lemon or in lukewarm herbal tea
  • Use nasal saline frequently
  • Use a bulb syringe, or other similar device, to remove mucus in children who can’t blow their nose

What are Influenza Type A Treatments?

Providers can prescribe antivirals, like Tamiflu, for influenza type A or any influenza strain in circulation. Dr. Kaufman says it’s OK to give this to a child if your doctor prescribes it.

“Tamiflu interferes with how the virus replicates, which keeps the amount of virus from increasing,” Dr. Kaufman says.

If you have trouble getting young children to take the medication, here are some tips and tricks:

  • Tip 1. For children who are eating solids, caregivers can try mixing it with a small amount of chocolate syrup or applesauce.
  • Tip 2. Insert the syringe into the side of the child’s mouth and squirt the liquid in while closing the child’s nose briefly. This causes the child to swallow the medicine in order to take a breath.
  • Tip 3. If they're older than two, you may try having them suck on a cherry popsicle, to numb their taste buds, then squirt the medicine in their mouth.

If you identify any of the following flu symptoms, consider a trip to the emergency room.

  1. Rapid breathing
  2. Difficulty breathing/increased work to breathe
  3. Child is difficult to wake up
  4. Child is inconsolable
  5. Blue lips or tongue
  6. Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal
  7. No tears when crying
  8. Refusing to drink
  9. Fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher in any newborn 28 days or younger