Symptoms of the Flu

2015-2016 Flu Season

Girl in bed with thermometer in mouth
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Even when you don't consider the bird flu or a possible pandemic flu strain, flu symptoms can be severe and the flu is a bad virus. According to the CDC, the flu can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.

In fact, 148 children died during the 2014-2015 flu season.

Is It The Flu?

Still, a lot of illnesses and symptoms get blamed on the flu, especially during the winter, that likely are caused by other viral illnesses or other conditions.

If you consider that only 5 to 20 percent of people get the flu each year, and they typically get it just once, then every cough, cold, ache, pain, and fever, can't be caused by the flu.

Flu tests aren't 100% accurate either. They can sometimes give false positive (a positive result when you don't really have the flu) or false negative (a negative result when you do actually have the flu) results.

So how do you know if your child has the flu?

Classic Flu Symptoms

Understanding what typical flu symptoms are in children can help you figure out if your child is sick with the flu.

Flu symptoms usually include a sudden onset of:

  • high fever, although not everyone with the flu has a fever, most do
  • chills
  • muscle aches and pains
  • weakness and tiredness
  • headache
  • dry cough (non-productive)
  • sore throat
  • runny nose, sometimes stuffy
  • nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (least common flu symptoms)

Again, keep in mind that many other viral illnesses can cause cold or 'flu-like symptoms,' although flu symptoms are usually more intense than regular cold symptoms.

These symptoms will typically last a few days to a few weeks, but will usually be getting better after 7 to 10 days. If they continue to get worse or worsen after getting better, then call your pediatrician. In general, you should also call your pediatrician if your child's flu symptoms are making him so irritable that he can't be consoled, if he won't eat or drink anything, if you can't wake him up, or if he is having trouble breathing, etc.

So, Is It the Flu?

Although we talked about their downsides, sometimes the only way that you can tell the difference between a cold and the flu is by doing a flu test. This can be important because flu medicines, like Tamiflu, can help to decrease the severity of flu symptoms and help your high-risk child get better sooner.

That doesn't necessarily mean that you should wait for the results of a flu test, though.

According to the CDC, "Once influenza activity has been documented in the community or geographic area, a clinical diagnosis of influenza can be made for outpatients with signs and symptoms consistent with suspected influenza, especially during periods of peak influenza activity in the community."

So if your child has classic flu symptoms and there is a moderate or high level of flu activity in your area, then your child likely has the flu.


CDC. Clinical Description & Lab Diagnosis of Influenza. Accessed May 2016.

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