Board Certified Pediatric Emergency Physician Dr. Ronnie Waldrop and Erin Rovelli, RN serve patients at the Children’s Emergency Room at Inova Loudoun Hospital – Loudoun County’s only emergency facility solely dedicated to caring for children and adolescents.

They call it flu season for a reason. Most children suffer from at least one viral infection every winter, and influenza is one of the culprits. While most children with flu recover on their own at home, the illness can create serious complications – and it helps to be prepared.

This month, we’re taking a closer look at 5 common winter viruses in children. Here’s your guide to identifying and treating influenza (flu).

What is Influenza?

Flu is a common and serious infection, affecting millions of Americans every year. It most often occurs in the winter and is extremely contagious – making it common in highly populated or crowded places like schools and daycare.


Flu is caused by a group of viruses that infect the throat, nose and lungs. Symptoms usually begin 1 to 4 days after coming into contact with the virus.

There are various strains of the flu, but all share the same core symptoms:

  • High fevers (greater than 102 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Occasionally, vomiting

The flu can result in a range of illnesses ranging from simple upper respiratory infections, sore throats and pneumonia, to severe infections such as sepsis, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

The risk of severe flu infection with complications is significantly higher in certain populations including the very young and the elderly, people living in crowded environments, pregnant women, people who are obese and people with weakened immune systems or chronic illnesses such as asthma.

Diagnosing and Treating Flu

Healthcare providers can take a sample from the nose or throat to perform a rapid influenza antigen test to quickly detect the flu. In some cases, a flu test may not be necessary and the illness is diagnosed simply through an examination and clinical history.

Antiviral medications such as oseltamivir phosphate (Tamiflu) can be effective if they’re started within the first day or two of the illness. Tamiflu can slightly shorten the duration of a flu infection and also helps to decrease the risk of complications. Antibiotics, however, are not effective for treating the flu.

A flu infection typically lasts 7 days. During that time, make sure your child is drinking plenty of fluids, and keep your child’s fever in check with medications such as ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Avoid aspirin-containing medications, which can have severe side effects in children.

Even after your child is feeling better, he or she might be at greater risk of developing a secondary bacterial infection for several weeks as a result of the prolonged congestion and inflammation associated with the flu. If you notice a recurrence of fever or symptoms, visit your doctor to rule out a bacterial infection.

When Can My Child Return to School?

People who have had flu should wait 5 to 10 days after the first symptoms before returning to school or work, or at least 24 hours after the fever, cough and/or congestion has subsided (whichever is longest).

Use our Inova physician search to find a doctor near you.


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